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The Demolition 




The Demolition 

India At The Crossroads 


NILANJAN MUKHOPADHYAY 




INDUS 

An imprint of tiarperCollins Publishers India 


INDUS 


An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers India Pvt Ltd 
7 16, Ansari RoivL Dar>-a Gunj, New Delhi 110 002 


f Niianian Mukhopadhyay 

\.i;in)an Muk'''op:;tihyay asserts the moral right 
to bo 'dent' i 'd a'» li’c author of this work 

ISBN 81-7223-1 14-8 

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To 

The Gods Who Failed 
Or 

The Ones Who Died Young 
And Of Course 


To 

l-ia’''ha 




CONTENTS 


Glossary n 

Preface a/ 

1. Prathamlornd: Prologue that is Past 1 

2. Rjmklnd: Story of Ram's Evolution 15 

3. AyodhyJkand: History of the Town 47 

4. Rsjkand: Political Basis of Hindu Fundamentalism 93 

5. Nyayakand; Denial of Justice 183 

6. Praharksrnd: Positioning for the Final Assault 2(>3 

7. Antimkand: Epilogue Without End 349 

Notes 377 

Postscript 39] 




CHAPTER 1 


Prathamkand 





"Then there ivas neither mm-existenf nor 
existent: there was no realm of air, ;/o sky 
beyond it"... 

From The Song of Creation, Rigveda 


O^n Christmas Fve, 1992, as I stood opposite the 10,000-odd 
square feet plot of land in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid once 
existed, I simultaneously went back into lime and tried to step 
into the future. I recalled my first visit to the lemplc-tovvn in 
1986shortly after a magistrate, K.M. Pandey, :n the district iiead- 
quarters of Faizabad, ordered unlocking of the gate of the 
mosque on February 1, and allowed Hindu devotees to worship 
the idols forcibly installed in the mosque way back in 1949. 1 also 
tried to visualise what the view' w'ould be like, a few years hence. 
1 realised that it was no longer the question of what would be 
the nature and design of the structure that would come up in 
place of the demolished 465-year-old structure, but one about 
India's future, its people, and the relationship among them. At 
stake was the traditional nature of India - - as ihe world and 
citizens of the country have known it since its Independence. 

Ever since public Wvuship was allowed at the disputed shrine 
in 1986, India's peace has been shattered, wdth distinct battle lines 
drawn between the people of India. Blood has frequently spilled 
on :he streets as Hindus and Muslims have repeatedly locked 
hoins and fought pitched battles with the police either, looking 
the other way or, playing a partisan role in favour of the Hindus. 



Several aspiring politicians now have a stranglehold on 
centrestage with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a marginal 
political party of yesteryears setting the national agenda since 
1989. Values, which formed the cornerstone of beliefs for several 
generations of Indians, are being abandoned. There seems to be 
an intense struggle in the Indian heart and mind. This may not 
necessarily lead to a mad frenzy of communal conflict or, an 
immecliate electoral sweep by the BJP, but the social attitude of 
the majority of Indians has changed beyond recognition. 

The developments in India over the past few years are being 
keenly observed and monitored by the entire world, as they 
prepare to deal with the emerging political order in the country. 
The entire body-politic of India has undergone a dramatic trans- 
formation in the wake of the agitation for a Ram temple in 
Ayodhya, a small township in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, 
the most populous state in India. Nothing underlines the 
remodelling, now underway in the country, better than the 
changed skyline of Ayodhya. So much has happened in India in 
nine years since the agitation for a Ram temple was launched in 
1984, that the present situation suggests the demolition of the 
Babri Masjid was not the enU of a turbulent phase, but merely 
the beginning of yet another end. In fact, if one analyses the 
events in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 one cannot escape the 
feeling that something very fundamental to the history of India 
happened in that small town on that day. 

But it is not that all that happened in Ayodhya was without a 
prelude. There had been enough portents of the likely shape of 
things to come, both in this temple town and in India. On several 
occasions warning bells were sounded in Ayodhya, but no one 
heeded them. Successive central governments first ignored the 
nascent threat posed by the demand for 'liberation' of the Ram 
temple at Ayodh^^a, and later tried to evade the snowballing 
crisis by a series of political manoeuvres, including forming an 
alliance with the BJP in the general election in 1989. But, all this 
appeared to be passe in Ayodhya on that foggy winter afternoon. 


4 



All that mattered was the fact that the very foundations of India 
had been rudely shaken. It was now clear that the face of India 
was a changed one and the shape of things to come would be 
completely different from the past tradition. It was clear that 
intolerance was to be the new catchword... 

While I stood on the rubble of the Babri Masjid, I recalled 
every flash-point in Ayodhya's history and the crucial dates of 
the agitation for the 'liberation' of the Ram Janmabhoomi: 
November 9, 1989 and October 30, 1990, the two dates on which 
the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) — the organisation spear- 
heading the agitation to change the meaning of nationalism — 
and its allies scheduled the programmes for shilanyas and kar 
seva, both of which played significant roles in toppling the 
central governments of the time. These were now little more than 
a part of the bizarre chain of events that were enacted in this 
sleepy little township with a population of less than 50,000. As 
I stood there that day, there were no full-throated slogans rend- 
ing the air. Neither was there a trace of the 465-year-old mosque, 
nor any indication of a grand and imposing 270-ft-long and 
126-ft-wide temple built with 212 pillars, each rising to a height 
of 132 feet, as was promised by the VHP. All that remained was 
a pile of rubble where the Babri Masjid once stood and a hastily 
erected structure of sorts. Scores of policemen from the Central 
Reserve Police Force wielded their guns. But there was little to 
protect... 

Along with the physical nature of the small mound called 
Ramkot where the Babri Masjid was located, the entire »wnship 
of Ayodhya had also changed drastically in the last seven years. 
Constituting a part of the Faizabad parliamentary constituency, 
this town had been so unconcerned with the agitation to convert 
India into a 'Hindu State', that the people of the town elected a 
communist party member to the Lok Sabha as late as 1989. But, 
th political and social mood in the temple town had undeigone 
a sea change since then, after the leaders of the agitation gave a 
new thrust to their campaign. Nothing underlined this more 


5 



starkly than the charred remains of more than 200 houses belong- 
ing to impoverished Muslims accounting for less than ten per 
cent of the town's population, and several partially demolished 
mosques in Ayodhya. The horror that was Ayodhya for several 
days in early December 1992 became more apparent when local 
residents gleefully took visitors around and showed them the 
evidence of havan (Hindu fire ritual) having been performed in 
several of the overrun mosques. All around there was evidence 
of an organised attempt to 'ethnically cleave' the town. Earlier 
in 1990, there had been attacks on some Muslims in Ayodhya 
after the kar seva bid by the activists of the VHP and its allies. 
But, what made the difference now was the intensity of the 
anti-Muslim violence — nearly a score of people had been killed 
and property worth several lakh rupees looted or destroyed — 
and the fact that this time the marauding mobs had the active 
support of the citizens of the town. 

When the majority of Indians first heard of the existence of 
the Babri Masjid and that there was a dispute over it, Ayodhya 
was a typical place of pilgrimage, with hundreds of temples and 
periodic fairs on important festivals when devotees flocked there 
in thousands. I he town and its people sustained themselves by 
offerings made by visiting devotees, business generated during 
the fairs and annual grants by scions of former princely states. 
There has been no detailed survey on the number of temples in 
Ayodhya — even the private praying nook in houses located in 
Ayodhya is thrown open to devotees with the hope that there 
would be minor additions to the family coffers. Throughout the 
nineteenth century especially towards the end several princely 
states built ashrams in Ayodhya for people to come and stay 
during the festival seasons. Each one of them is also run as a 
temple now. With each prince adhering to the architectural style 
of his own state, Ayodhya has several beautiful buildings, each 
dating back nearly a hundred years. It is ironical that the fiercest 
Hindu-Muslim dispute in Indian history has been over one of 
the least aesthetically attractive structures in Ayodhya. 


6 



Before the dispute over the Babxi Masjid and Ram Janma- 
bhoomi gripped India in its stranglehold, Ayodhya had conjured 
up different images for different Indians. For the bulk of Hindus, 
having grown up on a diet of Ramayan stories passed on for 
generations by willing grandmothers, the town was considered 
holy. But Ayodhya had never evoked the kind of appeal that 
other places of Hindu pilgrimage like Varanasi and Haridwar 
did. People did not head for Ayodhya, in the twilight of their 
life as they did for the two other pilgrimage centres. But, for me, 
every visit to the town reminded me of my childhood. I remem- 
ber Ayodhya as a town where monkeys were always on the 
prowl to grab anything from a hapless visitor. The train I took 
to go to Varanasi to visit my grandparents during my annual 
school vacations, would go past Ayodhya. Whenever the train 
approached Ayodhya station, people would frantically lower the 
shutters of their windows — in those days the windows of lower 
class compartments did not have grills — but the monkeys were 
ever hopeful of snatching something away from an unwary 
traveller. 

I was acutely reminded of my childhood images in 1989 when, 
during a visit to Ayodhya, I was informed that the VHP was 
planning to raise a brigade of youngsters to lend muscle to the 
temple agitation. Towards this end, a special function called 
Bajrang diksha — or monkey initiation — was planned in July 
that year and that th ' youngsters were to be given charge of 
overseeing the arrival of the thousands of specially consecrated 
bricks that the VHP was collecting from several parts of the 
country. This marked the birth of the Bajrang Dal, named after 
Hanuman, the monkey ally of Ram in the epic poem, Ramayan. 
The attempt was clearly to use the symbol of a brave monkey 
willing to undertake any risk to help the mythological hero. By 
floating the Bajrang Dal, the leaders of the VHP were obviously 
hopj' g to instil in the youth the same die-hard attitude to 
demolish the Babri Masjid, build a new temple, and initiate the 
process of 'Hinduising' India. 


7 



Standing where the Babri Masjid once existed^ I painfully 
recalled my boyhood impression of Ayodhya as a place where 
the monkeys were ever ready to snatch... 

But Ayodhya was seldom the place where intolerance reigned 
supreme. People of both Ayodhya and the twin city of Faizabad, 
also the district headquarters, were least concerned with the 
havoc the dispute over the shrine had been creating in the 
country. On repeated occasions, residents said that while it was 
true that there xvas a dispute over the shrine, since the matter 
was being contested in the court by a few individuals and they 
were agreeable to law taking its own course. People categorically 
say that there had been no trouble in the twin towns even though 
the dispute had been pending in the local district court since 
December 1949. Communal harmony and cordial relations be- 
tween Hindus and Muslims in Ayodhya are best exemplified in 
a temple called Sunder Bhavan. Situated at a stone's throw from 
Hanuman Garhi, one of the oldest temples of Ayodhya, the 
Sunder Bhavan Temple, with its idols of Ram and his wife Sita, 
had been managed by a Muslim, Munna Mian. Appointed for 
his honesty by Mahant Sunder Das, who built this temple shortly 
before India attained Independence in 1947, for close to four 
decades, the old Munna Mian, remained a devout Muslim, and 
had been a good manager of the temple. But suddenly, after the 
demolition, he found himself being hounded out by those agitat- 
ing for a Hindu India who felt that there is no place for Muslims 
in Ayodhya. 

Even in 1989, when activists of the VHP dug up the graveyard 
in front of the Babri Masjid to perform shilanyas — to lay the 
foundation of the proposed new temple (which they later 
claimed was not just a simple foundation stone, but the "basis 
of a Hindu Rashtra") — the people of the twin towns of Faizabad 
and Ayodhya were unimpressed. In fact, they responded by 
electing a communist member to the Lok Sabha, the lower House 
of Parliament comparable to the House of Commons, in the 
ensuing parliamentary election barely a fortnight later. But the 


8 



winds of change sweeping the country soon began to start 
making an impact on the residents in these two towns. A year 
later, Hindu citizens of these towns joined hands with the VHP 
activists, to collectively campaign for the construction of the 
proposed temple. In the next round of general elections, 
precipitated by the kar seva programme of October 1990, the 
electoral behaviour of Ayodhya had undergone a change; the 
new member of Parliament to represent the Faizabad constituen- 
cy was a leader of the Bajrang Dal, admitted in the Bharatiya 
Janata Party shortly before the elections. But, even then the Hin- 
dus of both the towns did not turn hostile to the local Muslims, 
even though they ratified the demand of demolishing the 
mosque, and building a new temple. But all this had changed 
by December 1992, with hostility towards Muslims being the 
predominant sentiment in these two towns. Muslims felt more 
insecure than ever before, even more than at the time of the 
Partition in 1947, and there was evidence of a new found asser- 
tiveness among the Hindus. It seems nothing will satisfy the 
Hindu citizens more than seeing the BJP come to power at the 
Centre. Subsequent visits to Ayodhya further underlined that so 
much had changed in India, and so had Ayodhya .. 

If anyone had expected that with the demolition of the Babri 
Masjid the problem would be contained, as the bone of conten- 
tion was no longer in existence, they were sadly mistaken. The 
recurring Hindu-Muslim clashes in several parts of the country, 
the mass endorsement of the frenzied action at Ayodhya, the 
meticulous political planning of the RSS and its affiliates in the 
aftermath of the demolition, and the bewildered and fragmented 
response of the Union government and other political parties not 
wedded to the concept of a Hindu India, is clear for all to see. 
There are also indications of the emergence of Islamic terrorism 
in India. For the first time, the myth of Hindu society being, a 
tclc^ ant one is being questioned. 

The triumph of the Hindutva idea is for all to see. This has 
naturally made a large niunber of Hindus in the country and 


9 



even those living abroad as Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) more 
buoyant than ever before. For the first time, Hindus have started 
articulating their views as Hindus and questions are openly 
posed about several characteristics of Muslims. There might be 
countless studies to counter the claims, but the average Hindu 
fed by the publicists of the Hindutva idea will argue thdt Mus- 
lims are poor because they breed more, marry many more times, 
and have been consistently pampered in all walks of life. In 
private meetings, many I lindus openly say that the sham has to 
end and that the Muslims must be taught to live in India accord- 
ing to the dictates of the majority community. 

For the first time in India, these views are being expressed by 
Hindus from all sections of society, cutting across class lines. 
While it is true that there are several Hindus who do not sub- 
scribe to such a viewpoint and are in open opposition to the 
proponents of Hindutva, they are not united. In fact, India is 
today witnessing a new assertive Hindu who could not care 
much about people with whom they have participated in the 
making of India's modern history. Predictably, the leaders of the 
Hindutva parties analyse thf present situation as a case of a 
Hindu society in resurgence, but a non-partisan analysis of the 
situation reveals it is not the case of a resurgent society marching 
towards rectifying historical wrongs. Rather, the Ayodhya move- 
ment has just resuscitated the Hindus as a community that is 
now shaping itself as an electoral vote bank to the advantage of 
the BJP. The argument of the Hindutva leaders has been accepted 
by the majonly of Hindus: If most political parties can treat 
minorities as a vote bank, what is the harm if the BJP claims that 
its primary duty is to safeguard the interests of the Hindus and 
in return get electoral support? 

The triumph of the Hindutva idea is evident for all to see as 
is the stark inability of non-Hindutva political parties and social 
groups to offer an alternative to the process now under way in 
India. For the past decade there have been several changes both 
at the intellectual level and at the level of grassroot politics, but 


10 



since the initial trends were ignored and it now appears that 
there is no escape from the vice-like grip the Hindutva idea has 
on the minds of a large number of Indians. This phenomenon 
extends beyond the realm of high politics and electoral be- 
haviour and has taken root in the everyday social level. It is best 
marked by the presence of aggressive graffiti on walls in almost 
every part of the country and the visible display of symbols that 
have come to be identified with the Hindutva idea. This idea 
today has a total sway over popular culture and is steadily per- 
vading newer areas. 

What India is witnessing is not just the end of a- phase of 
post-Independence history, but the beginning of a new phase in 
its history. Indian polity, which has greatly modelled itself on 
the Western liberal democratic system, is poised to undergo a 
sea change as the influence of the Hindutva idea is unlikely to 
be undermined in the near future. This naturally would have a 
great bearing on global politics, primarily as the Western world 
is faced with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the suggestion 
that in its search for an alternate pole to vent its 'hate 
propaganda' the Western countries would seek to project the 
.'cemented Islamic world' as the real threat to Western liberal 
democracy, in such a situation, would a Hindu India be an ally 
of the West? While there are arguments that the events following 
the demolition of the Babri Masjid are of a transitory nature and 
that India would soon return to its tranquil ways, and that the 
BJP would soon reach a plateau, there are also powerful reasons 
to the contrary to suggest that the Hindutva idea will be the 
cornerstone of future governance in the country. 

It is clear that Hindutva is yet another Asian alternative to 
Western liberalism, on which the Nehruvian model was based. 
Some aspects of the system were dismantled by the present 
Un' >n government when, after assuming office in June 1991, it 
proceeded with a series of economic alterations that have greatly 
remodelled the nature of Indian economy. In fact, the economic 
changes in India in the last two years seems to have kept pace 


11 



with the collapse of socialism elsewhere. However, the 
parameters of Western liberalism were never violated in India 
till the advent of Hindutva. 

What makes the situation in India more interesting is that the 
Hindutva idea, unlike earlier alternatives to Western liberalism, 
has no real difference in its economic approach. Since the I lin- 
dutva field of control is restricted to the frontiers of the country, 
it does not threaten, at least for the moment, the sway of the 
rejuvenated Western liberalism. The likely attitude of Western 
liberals towards Hindutva will be in direct contrast to their pos- 
tures towards the Islamic world. With the advent of a unipolar 
world, the West has to project a 'bogey' for sustenance within 
its own political order, and that can come from harping on the 
old days of the 'Holy Wars' when Christianity and Islam were 
at loggerheads. And, in such a situation, a Hindu India could be 
a potential ally provided it gives a portion of the economic cake 
to the Western nations. 

Hindutva loyalists feel that they have won the day and arc 
poised for several more victorious bouts. But, there arc basic 
questions that have come to the fore. 1 laving won the day, where 
do we go? What is the shape ot things to come? How long can 
the majority of this country be made to teast on a staple diet of 
religious fervour and haired towards the minorities, instead ol 
actual calories that would give strength to both body and soul? 
Besides the social order, how arc other vital areas like education, 
health, and science to be structured? Will there be a return to the 
old order when only those born into a privileged family are 
allowed access to the temples ol learning and ensured a safe life? 
What is to be the fate of the 12 million-odd Muslims living in 
the country? The proponents of Hindutva have made it clear that 
if the Muslims wish to continue living in India, they have to 
conform to the beliefs of the majority Hindus, and revere all 
symbols and gods of the Hindu pantheon. The problems are 
manifold and simplistic assertions that, with the demolition of 
the Babri Masjid, the Muslims of the country have been taught 


12 



a lesson, will not pave the way towards a stronger nation. 

The ringside view of the flow of events in the past decade has 
made me acutely conscious of the changing face of India. The 
demolition of the Babri Masjid was, to me, a very unfortunate 
development because it was a grotesque end to a fierce ideologi- 
cal battle. Being a non-Muslim and an agnostic of sorts, the 
decrepit old structure never evoked any religious emotions in 
me. It also did not evoke any aesthetic sentiment. But, for me, it 
was always the symbol of something abstract. I had always 
likened the Babri Masjid to a structure that embodied the abstract 
goal that India had to achieve. Throughout the past decade 
which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the 
ideological struggle centring around the structure had two war- 
ring forces. On one side, were the votaries of the Hindutva idea 
and, on the other, 'romantics' who were still willing to slake their 
future for the abstract Indian nation that they were committed 
to. Ironically, in this losing battle for the 'abstractionists,' the 
Indian State remained a passive onlooker. It has been apparent, 
on several occasions, that the State in India believes in the view- 
point of the Hindutva leaders, but does not have the courage to 
say so in explicit terms. 

When 1 ret. rntd to Ayodhya on February 6, 1993, just two 
months after the tumultuous day in the temple town, I felt nos- 
talgic. I also had a feel.ng of deja vu. None of the Hindus that I 
spoke to in the town were looking behind, but everyone was 
attempting to foresee the future. The question uppermost in the 
minds of people was whether the BJP would come to power and 
when. But, for me, the past was still important as it indicated 
the nature of the future. he political forces, now on the upswing 
in the country, have clear cut answers for everything. There is a 
great amount of certainty in each of the assertions of the leaders 
of tomorrow There is no longer the question of chasing a fantasy' 
for th' nation. Rather, everything has been predetermined. The 
people of this country have simply one history and one tradition 
and anyone disagreeing with the official viewpoint will have 


1.3 



little space in the nation of tomorrow. In a way, the demolition 
of the Babri Masjid has led to the demise of romanticism from 
the political theatre of the country. And I shall remember with 
fondness this romanticism that I grew up with... 



CHAPTER 2 








By killing Ravan 
I have avenged the insult 
He did to my honour. 

This war, this struggle, 

Was not for your sde. 

1 did what / did 
To wipe out the shame 
On my family name 
And now, with rumours 
Everywhere floating, 

Your presence hurts 
I give you leave 
I have no more need of you... 

Ham to Sita in the Ramayan's Yudhkand 


X Vam, {he prince-protagonist of the epic poem Ramayan, 
whose name has been craftily utilised by the advocates of the 
Hindutva idea to propel themselves onto the centrestagc of the 
Indian political theatre, has conjured up different images for 
Hindus from diverse ’r'ackgrounds. For a large number, he is 
revered for the nobility of his character, a trait that has given the 
mythological character the common title of maryada purushottam, 
the epitome of virtue. Unlike several other mythological charac- 
ter; . people never harp on the anomalies in Ram's character, and 
the mythological hero like many other heroes is not seen to have 
ever done anything wrong. The characterisation of Ram in the 


17 



Ramayan, the epic from which the bulk of contemporary images 
of the hero are drawn, is in complete contrast to the leading 
characters of the other equally important Hindu epic, the Maha- 
bharat, where all eminent men and women are shown to be more 
human than Ram, in so far as they are prone to simple mistakes 
made by human beings, while each of Ram's actions are 
measured and aberrations justified. 

Ram thus was characterised as the perfect human being and 
as time flowed by after the composition of the Ramayan nearly 
two thousand years ago, he has come to be regarded both as a 
god — he is considered an avatar of Vishnu — as well as a folk 
hero in large parts of northern India. Ram's travails and tales of 
his exploits have become popular through a series of rituals and 
festivals. But, there are also large sections of Hindu society where 
Ram is regarded merely as a member of the Hindu pantheon of 
gods, and not an embodiment of Hindu culture. 

However, the superhuman characteristics of Ram's character 
came in handy for the ideologues of the Hindutva mefVement. 
From a simple god of the Hindu pantheon, he is now projected 
to be a symbol of the Indian rational identity. Lai Krishna Ad- 
vani, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose supporters 
shrewdly managed to get him voted as BBC's Man of the Year 
1990 (the orchestrated campaign was discovered by the Corpora- 
tion and his name subsequently dropped), put forth his favourite 
argument during his nation-wide campaign trip — euphemisti- 
cally called Rath Yatra — that year. (Advani's actual name how- 
ever is Lai Kishinchand Advani, but his party colleagues insist 
on using Krishna as it gives him a mythological halo. They say 
that it is a matter of 'faith' that he is Krishna to them. Hereafter 
he will named as Advani is popularly called.) In speech after 
speech at wayside gatherings, where his cavalcade led by a 
vehicle decorated like the mythological chariot stopped, he 
espoused that Ram was not just a god, but was the embodiment 
ot the national character of India. He would then go on to 
elaborate that his party had adopted the agitation for the Ram 


18 



temple at Ayodhya, because the successful end of the campaign 
would lead to the reassertion of the Indian identity. It goes 
without saying that this identity would be primarily Hindu be- 
cause as Advani has said on several occasions^ "India is primarily 
Hindu." 

This argument found many takers in the years between the 
Rath Yatra and the demolition of the Babri Masjid and even 
afterwards. While in the earlier phase, the main slogans adopted 
by the agitators focussed only on the demand for building the 
temple in place of the mosque, in the latter phase of the cam- 
paign, a common graffiti was Ram drohi, rashtra drohi (Ram's 
traitor is the nation's traitor). This clearly illustrated that for the 
advocates of Hindutva, any citizen of the country who ranged 
against the manner in which they were agitating for the Ram 
temple, had little future in an India, governed by the RSS clan. 
When this slogan appeared, it was clear that Hindutva advocates 
were casting their nets much wider than before in an effort to 
enlist the support of new social groups that had so far remained 
aloof from the agitation. It was also a belated attempt to change 
the character of the agitation from one restricted to just the 
'restoration' of a temple, to a wider ideological campaign that 
would dramatically alter the face of Indian polity. 

There have been o^her arguments which have sought to im- 
press that unless Rarr has the pride of i>lace in India, the nation 
will stagnate and will not have the necessaiy dynamism to over- 
come global challenges.^ The new slogans and their acceptance 
by the Hindutva converts amply underscore the success ot Hin- 
dutva ideologues in e.it’ating a mythological character with the 
soul of a modem nation state. While the name of Ram was 
invoked during India's Freedom Struggle, this is the first instance 
of a consistent Ccunpaign for the acceptance of the mythological 
char 'Cter by all wishing to live in India. The advocates of Hin- 
dutva have made it clear that they will not be satisfied if Ram is 
merely respected; he must be given a pristine place, second to 
none, in the consciousness of every Indian, and anyone who 


19 



refuses to comply has no right to associate himself with the 
nation. In the span of nine years since the agitation for building 
a Ram temple at Ayodhya was launched, this mythological char- 
acter has been successfully pitchforked into a position where the 
degree of reverence to him will be the yardstick for measuring 
the patriotic fervour of each Indian. Consequently, in the emerg- 
ing political scenario in India, failure to satisfy the advocates of 
the Hindutva idea regarding one's devotion and reverence to 
Ram would have clear repercussions for the individual. 


Ram's Story 

Ram's story is not as linear as the champions of Hindutva have 
made it out to be. Like any other mythological character. Ram's 
personality has been continually developing with each age ad- 
ding something to the original. The images that Ram now evokes 
in the minds of people is a far cry from those that can be conjured 
from the epic when it was first composed. Just as the character 
of Ram has undergone a cha^^tge since then, there have also been 
many interpolations into the story, and several versions of the 
original poem have been composed in various languages, both 
in India and abroad. The proponents of Hindutva have also 
made certain alterations to the core of the epic and, for the 
moment, these additions and interpretations are of primary im- 
portance, the original character of the epic having lost its 
relevance, especially over the past decade. The Ramayan, as 
interpreted and publicised by the promoters of the Hindutva 
idea, has now assumed a greater significance than the original. 
This was most evident in August 1993, when Hindutva advo- 
cates objected to an exhibition produced by SAHMAT, a cultural 
body, on>tl^story of Ram. The exhibition emphasised that the 
^f Ram did not stem from a singular tradition. 

* The main o|f]^ition was to a panel that showed that in one 
l^t|^|^h|sl Jatal^ We, Ram and Sita were brother and sister. This 
;jj^as found 'ob^Jionable' and the advocates of the Hindutva 
H 20 3S^0-‘=|^<d 



idea successfully stopped the exhibition by getting the Union 
government, the sponsor of the show, to order its closure. 

In more ways than one, the Ramayan is a simple story of Ram, 
a prince, Sita, his wife, Lakshman, his brother, and their adven- 
tures and escapades when they are banished to the forest by a 
cunning stepmother. Valour, duty and love are the basic moral 
messages in the story. Written in the form of a long epic poem, 
the bulk of its composition is in the traditional shloka metre, and 
the narratives range from an account of the court of Raja Dash- 
rath, Ram's father, the meanderings of the trio in the forests and 
their interaction with ascetics and demons, the resulting battle 
with the demon king Ravan, and the victorious re*^um of the trio 
to the capital city of Ayodhya after the rescue of Sita from Ravan. 

Hindu tradition has it that the original version of the epic 
poem was composed by Valmiki, a sage. In later centuries, how- 
ever, as the tales from the Ramayan were orally passed on from 
generation to generation, .several additions v/ere made to 
Valmiki's original. The version of the Valmiki Ramayan, that 
exists today was composed and written between several cen- 
turies — probably between the fifth century B.C. and the third 
century A.D. " This version is now divided into seven books, 
called kand«> (episodes). They compnse between 66 and 116 $ar~ 
gi/s or chapters that, scholars of ancient Hindu texts opine, helps 
to determine the inn imerable stages of its development through 
the centuries.^ 

The first book of the original epic, Ayodhyakand, is now the 
second book ol the existing version.'' The first book, now^ Balkand, 
is an obvious, latcr-day interpolation to highlight the divinity of 
Ram.In Ayodhyakai <! ^hereadersareintroducedtoDashrath,his 
three wives — Kaushalya, Kaikcyi, and Sumitra; the four sons — 
Ram, born to the first wife, Kaushalya, Bharat to Kaikeyi, and 
L akshman and Shatrnghna to Sumitra. The story, as it unfolds, has 
in aging king nominating Ram to the throne. Kaikeyi objects to 
this decision and uses an earlier blind promise made by Dashrath 
to have Ram banished to the forests for fourteen years. This 


21 



ensures that the throne goes to Bharat. The dutiful Ram/ though 
seeing through the machinations of his step mother, leaves the 
capital with his wife and brother, Lakshman, even as they are fol- 
lowed by throngs of citizens. The aging king dies, Bharat is hastily 
summoned back to the capital and, after realising the ploy of his 
mother, goes to the forest to persuade Ram to come back. He fails 
in his mission, but manages to return from Chitrakoot, where the 
trio live during the period of banishment, with the wooden san- 
dals of his elder brother. To mark his authority, Bharat chooses not 
to govern the kingdom from the capital of Ayodhya, but instead 
bases himself at nearby Nandigram, and declares that he is merely 
Ram's regent. Ayodhyakand ends with Ram deciding to leave 
Chitrakoot for a remoter part of the forest. 

Aranyakand, or the Forest Episode, is the next book and it 
chronicles the travails of the trio in the dense forests and their 
various experiences that end with the abduction of Sita. In the 
forest, the trio not only meet ascetics, but also have altercations 
with demons. This forces Ram to don the mantle of a perfect 
kshatriya warrior, even though he has resolved to live the life of 
an ascetic. These passages are used to highlight Ram's commit- 
ment to his duty as a member of the princely caste at the expense 
of his resolutions, which provides the basis for his later image 
as a benevolent protector. The wanderings in the forest account 
for nearly ten of the fourteen yeare of exile. Among various sages 
that Ram meets, is Agastya, who gives his divine weapons in 
return for Ram's pledge to build a hermitage at nearby 
Panchvati. The significance of this meeting is evident much later 
in the epic when Ram has to use of these divine weapons to kill 
Ravan. While in the forest, trouble comes their way in the form 
of Surpanakha, a woman demon, who makes amorous advances 
towards the brothers and, on being rejected, attacks Sita. This 
forces Lakshman to mutilate Surpanakha, who approaches her 
demon brothers to take revenge. When the lesser demons fail to 
cause any harm to the trio, Surpanakha calls on another brother, 
Ravan, the king of Lanka. Ravan abducts Sita and the episode 


22 



ends with the brothers making their way to the Vanar (monkey) 
kingdom to look for allies in their battle against Ravan. 

The next book is called Kishkindakand for it narrates the 
events in the city of Kishkinda, the capital of the Vanar kingdom. 
Ram forges an alliance w:th a monkey prince, Sugriv, and helps 
him get the kingdom bac< from his brother Vali by striking him 
from behind — an act for which Ram is reproached by the dying 
Vali. Meanwhile, the search for Sita continues and armies of the 
Vanars are sent off in different directions. While most of the 
armies return, Hanuman, the trusted Vanar ally of Ram, learns 
that Sita is in the island of Lanka and decides to leap over the 
sea to find her. 

Sundarkand, the next book, has a long account of Lanka's 
beauty, where Hanuman lands after his jump over the sea. He 
wanders about the city unnoticed and eventually discovers Sita 
in a grove. He presents himself to her and shows Ram's ring «is 
a mark of identification. However, Sita refuses to escape with 
Hanuman and tells him that she would prefer to be rescued by 
Ram personally. Hanuman returns to his kingdom but not before 
indulging in wanton destruction of Lanka. Hanuman's act is later 
compared by leaders of the RSS clan with the demolition of the 
Babri Masjid, hereby underlining how mythology has been skil- 
fully used by the votaries of the Hindutva idea. 

The narrative content of Yudhkand, the next book, is martial 
in character. There are details of Ram's preparation for the as- 
sault on Lanka, the ensuing battle and the final duel between 
Ravan and Ram. The duel ends with Ravan's death avS Ram 
invokes divine powers, and the subsequent installation of 
Ravan's virtuous brotti'-r Vibhishan on the throne of Lanka, and 
Sita's liberation. 

The story, so far, is in keeping with the classical plot of a good 
and virtuous prince, his loving wife and devoted brothers, a. 
scheming stepmother, a villainous king kidnapping the wife to 
make her his wife, her spurning his advances, the prince entering 
into a battle for his beloved, and the subsequent victory of the 


23 



virtuous prince. Composed aesthetically, the epic poem talks of 
the virtues of honest living and has several moral lessons like 
other epics in various parts of the world. But like popular stories 
all over the world, the Valmiki Kamayan has also not lacked 
sequels, each age making certain interpolations and changes 
depending on the values of the time. 

The Epic Starts Changing 

In fact, there is no reason to suppose that the original story, as 
composed by Valmiki, did not end on the happy note of Ram 
uniting with Sita, and the trio returning triumphantly to Ayod- 
hya with Ram taking charge from Bharat and having a good 
tenure as the king. However, even in the edition now extant and 
perceived to be the true account of Ram's travails, there are 
accounts of Ram doubling the virtue ot Sita and his assertions 
that he fought the battle to vindicate his kshatriya valour and 
not out of lov’e for her This forces Sita to undergo the torture of 
the fire ordeal, and the gods appear and inform Ram that he is 
Vishnu-incamate. The accounts become more fantastical as Agni, 
the god of fire, appears to hand back Sita, Dashrath makes an 
appearance to bless hi.*' son, and Ram requc.sis the gods to restore 
to life all the Vanars who died fighting his battle. 

There is no reason to disbelic\’e that all these episodes, bor- 
dering cm the fantastic, are flights of fancy of latter-day inter- 
polators, and not Valmiki's contribution to the epic. They have 
clearly been added to the original as the need to spread the myth 
of Ram being a Vishnu-incarnate aro.se with the passage of time. 

This is also probably true of the first and the last book of the 
popular edition of the Ramayan that is available now. The 
Balkand and Uttarakand have been regarded by scholars as the 
handiwork of latter-day interpolators as there are not only dis- 
crepancies in style but also contradictions in the core of the epic 
poem.® The majority ot the accounts in the latter-day versions 
stress the divine character of Ram and his consort. In Balkand, 

24 



the additions narrate Ram's birth, his youthful exploits and mar- 
riage, a large number of the episodes being fanciful flights of 
imaginative interpolators. Even the birth of the four brothers is 
explained in miraculous terms: Dashrath is childless and stages 
a ritualistic that moves the gods to fulfil his wish; the gods 
request Vishnu to become an incarnate and destroy Ravan; Sita's 
birth is described in miraculous terms; and Ram is able to marry 
her only after performing the superhuman task of breaking 
Shiva's bow. 

The evidence of latter-day interpolations is clearer in the 
seventh book, Uttarakand (the book of Further Exploits), for even 
though it is set in Ayodhya after the return of Ram, nearly the first 
third of the book details the misdeeds of Rav an before his battle 
with Ram. This appears to have been added to the original with the 
purpose of negating allegations that Ram has acted against the 
grain oidharma by killing a brave king. The rest of the seventh book 
is an account of Sita being banished from the kingdom following 
gossip about her virtue when she was a captive of Ravan. Sita takes 
refuge in Valmiki's hermitage (this is the first time that Valmiki 
enters the narrative) and gives birth to twin sons who are later 
recognised when they are heard narrating and singing the story of 
Ram. By this dme, the story of Ram had already become part of 
folklore, a fact which lends weight to the argument that the book 
was a later interpolation. Sita is soon recalled, but after having un- 
dergone several humiliations calls upon 'Mother Earth' to swal- 
low her and Ram is left grieving for his wife. But he continues his 
long reign which ends only when I akshman dies. Ram decides to 
bequeath the empire to his twin sons and proceeds towards 
heaven with Bharat anu ohatrughna, by immolating himself on the 
banks of the river Saryu. The fact that the first and last books of the 
present version of the Ramayan have been interpolated to stress 
the .livinity of Ram has been established by several scholars. Ohe 
of them contends: 

"Ram's deification and identification with Vishnu are con- 
stantly present in the mind of the poet of the first and the last 


25 



books. But in the five genuine books, apart from a few interpo- 
lated passages, this concept is absent and, by contrast. Ram is 
thoroughly human. Such a transformation of Ram's character 
could only have taken place over a long span of time".* 

Valmiki's original has been subject to new interpretations and 
interpolations for close to two thousand years, the most recent 
instance being in 1988 when a leading film producer from Bom- 
bay, Ramanand Sagar, was given a chance to present the epic 
poem in the form of a television serial. It was a "culmination of 
the trend" that started with the rise of cinema and "mythological 
films made on the Ramayan".^The serial, made in the traditional 
soapopera style, contributed greatly in popularising the myths 
surrounding Ram and subsequently aided the advocates of the 
Hindutva idea. The serial virtually grounded the nation every 
Sunday morning, when it was telecast. It had its share of inter- 
pretations, primarily thanks to modern technology, and predict- 
ably dwelt more on the fantastical aspects of the version of the 
Ramayan as known today, leaving out the core of the original 
for linking the narrative from one episode to another. It has been 
contended that Sagar's version of the Ramayan was a pop ver- 
sion of Valmiki's epic and would be the "reigning literature" if 
the RSS clan comes to power in India.* The serial, telecast on the 
state television, (at that time the state had a monopoly on the 
audio-visual medium) also had its share of controversies. While 
a section of the intelligentsia argued that state television should 
not be used to popularise an essentially religious myth, purists 
felt that the producers of the television serial were taking too 
many liberties with both the Valmiki Ramayan as well as the 
popular Ram Charit Manas, composed by the medieval Bhakti 
poet Tulsidas. However, the controversies notwithstanding, the 
serial had an unprecedented run on television. By the time the 
serial ended, a majority of Indians had been fed recycled, mythi- 
cal accounts of Ram's exploits. 

By taking liberties with the Valmiki Ramayan and Tulsidas' 
Ram Charit Manas, Sagar adhered to the conventional pattern 


26 



of the growth of Hindu mythology. The television serial, in fact, 
became a part of the bardic tradition that has added to the core 
of the mythical stories. 

Besides the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, the other epic which 
has traditionally contributed to the building of a typical Hindu 
psyche, soon followed on the small screen mounted in a similar 
manner. The two epics have had a symbiotic relationship from 
the time they were composed in the first millennium B.C., and 
the trend continued in the 1980s. It was not just the question of 
the Mahabharat following the Ramayan on television, but the 
second epic serial was also neatly dovetailed into the political 
theatre of India; After the agitation for the 'restoration' of the 
birthplace of Ram gained ground, the proponents of Hindutva 
would launch a similar agitation for the 'birthplace' of Krishna, 
the spiritual hero of the Mahabharat. 

The second serial was produced by B.R. Chopra, another big 
producer from Bombay in a more grandiose manner. The serial, 
also in the soapopera style, once again grounded the entire na- 
tion, even cigarette vendors would down the shutters, and led 
to popularising several forgotten beliefs greatly aiding the 
proponents of the Hindutva idea. At a time when the two serials 
were at the zenith of their popularity, hospitals in several parts 
of the country recorded an alarming rise in the number of injuries 
to children with makeshift arrows, shot from hastily strung 
bows. They were get'ing injured in battle games played by 
children after seeing the warfare on the small screen. Even 
though there has been no definitive survey of the extent of 
'Hinduisation' of the average Indian mind due to the two 
television serials, the po^iularity ratings must have some bearing 
on the spurt of support for the Hindutva idea. The Congress 
government of the time, headed by Rajiv Gandhi, had con- 
tributed immensely to the spread of Hindutva by deciding to 
scree* ‘ the two serials, backed by adequate corporate sponsor- 
ship, at prime time on Sunday morning. However, when 
criticism at the government decision mounted, the Indian state 


27 



hastily cleared similar programmes on other religions, but they 
never acquired the kind of popularity of these two serials. 

That the Mahabharat followed the Ramayan on television is in 
keeping with the fact that the contemporary version of the Mahab- 
harat has a voluminous section — the Ramopakhyana — that sum- 
marises the Ram legend in both the human and divine forms, and 
thus suggests that the Mahabharat got its present shape only after 
the popularisation of the Ram legend.^ Even though the common- 
ly accepted view is that the Mahabharat Is older than the Ramayan, 
the apparent contradiction arises from the fact that the original 
Ramayan was composed over a much shorter period than the 
Mahabharat. The latter therefore has more substantial interpola- 
tions and expansions than the Ramayan, This is the reason why 
there are references to the Ramayan in the Mahabharat and not 
vice versa. But there are indications that the latter-day inter- 
polators of the epics were familiar with both. This becomes most 
apparent by a linguistic comparison of the two epic^ A detailed 
analysis shows that the "majority of the proverbs found in the 
Ramayan are also found in the Mahabharat and about a fifth of the 
similes are common to both,"^® highlighting the rich common 
tradition from which the two epics evolved. The analysis con- 
cludes: "It is clear that the poets of the later parts of the Ramayan 
were intimately acquainted with the Mahabharat in something 
like its present form, whereas, Valmiki was not."” 

It is clear that the two epics have grown from the basic kernel 
left behind by the original composers. Evolving over the centuries 
primarily through the bardic tradition, the epic poems — primari- 
ly highlighting the valour of the protagonist and other main char- 
acters — were passed from generation to generation, first by the 
oral tradition and later in the written form. In a way, Ramanand 
Sagar and B.R. Chopra were part of the same bardic tradition and 
when they made their television serials and opted to include only 
sections underljdng the divinity of the characters from the epics. 


28 



Ram Evolves As God 


To understand the omnipresence of Ram in the present political 
theatre of India^ it is important to analyse the evolution of Ram 
from an ordinary epic hero to an incarnate of Vishnu and then 
as a 's3anbol of national identity^ as argued by the proponents 
of the Hindutva idea. But, it has to be kept in mind that all the 
epic heroes, ranging from Ram to Krishna of the Mahabharat 
were slowly attributed with divinity not only because of the 
bardic tradition. It must be remembered that these epics, when 
originally written and composed, were devoid of any religious 
connotation. Such a revision came about only with the revival 
of the Brahminical order in Hindu society. As Brahmins sought 
to have a stranglehold on Hindu society, all the epics came to 
be used by them as religious texts, because the heroes were 
powerful symbols that could be utilised to further their upper 
caste interests. Many of the interpolations were clearly at the 
behest of the leaders of the Brahminical order: the most famous 
and well-known case being that of the Bhagvad Gita in the 
Mahabharat — the long seijnon of Krishna to Arjun before the 
start of the epic battle — which was not a part of the original 
version. The link between this Brahminical tradition and the RSS 
clan is underlined by the fact that the Babri Masjid was 
demolished on the -lay considered to be the anniversary of 
Krishna's sermon to Arjun. 

The attribution of divinity to the characters of the epic heroes 
also corresponded to other signihcant changes in the Hindu 
pantheon of gods. While the main Hindu gods at the time of the 
origin of the two epi< s were Indra and Brahma, by the time the 
Brahminical order was working towards cementing the divine 
character of the epic heroes, the main gods had become Vishnu 
and Shiva. This was necessitated for several reasons, the mo^t 
inip 'rtant being the declining image of Indra from his pre- 
eminent position because of his moral degradation which be- 
came worse with every passing Purana that was written. Thus 


29 



while in the early stages of the spread of the Ramayan, PUun was 
likened (not considered an incarnate) to Indra, by the time the 
Ramayan established itself as a religious text in the medieval 
period, the epic hero was not only compared to Vishnu, but was 
also considered his incarnate. By this time, the avatar doctrine 
had been firmly established in the logic of Hindu philosophy. 

Hence, the present version of the Valmiki Ramayan that is 
kept in the average Hindu household and read during religious 
rituals, has little bearing on the epic as composed by the sage. 
But the expanded version did not develop overnight. Additions 
have continued since the time when it started becoming a 
popular tale and later writers chose different sections to expand 
on. Clearly the development of the epic has taken place in several 
stages, with each stage corresponding to the changes taking place 
in Hindu society, taking into account the political changes in the 
region where the epic was being expanded. Given the nature of 
the epic, the Ramayan has been studied exhaustively by several 
scholars and the evolution of the story has been detailed with 
great precision. One postulation has categorised the present day 
version of Valmiki Ramayan as having evolved in at least five 
distinct phases and also alluded to the period when the expan- 
sion took place.'” 

The first stage is undoubtedly the time when Valmiki com- 
posed the majority of the existing versions of the five books from 
Ayodhyakand to Yudhkand. This accounts for more than 37 per 
cent of the existing Valmiki Ramayan, which was orally passed 
from the fifth to the fourth centuries B.C. In the second stage of 
the Ramayan's evolution, starting from the third century B.C. 
and continuing till the first century A.D., the expansion of the 
epic is confined to the existing books; while in the third stage, 
between the first and third centuries A.D., the main development 
of the epic is in the addition of the first and last books: Balkand 
and Uttarakand. These two books now account for nearly 25 per 
cent of the present version of the epic. The fourth stage of the 
Ramayan's development is spaced out between the fourth and 


30 



the twelfth centuries A.D., and both in this phase and in the next, 
rather than additions in die form of books, alterations and addi- 
tions are made to the version existing at the time. The fifth and 
the final stage of the Ramayan's expansion started after the 
twelfth century. 

An analysis of the shlokas composed in various phases of the 
development of the Ramayan, presents interesting conclusions. 
In the first stage, the epic is primarily martial in character and 
the protagonist is a noble hero, a fact that becomes clear when 
Ram says that even his future is determmed by fate. The pan- 
theon of gods is more Vedic than Puranic at this stage, and 
throughout the drst and the second stage, both Ram and 
Lakshman are compared to Indra, Brahma and other symbolic 
gods like Vayu, Agni, and Marut. But, the situation alters 
dramatically in the third stage with the inclusion of the Balkand 
and the Uttarakand incorporated into the existing version to 
stress Ram's divinity and initiate the transformation of the epic 
from a simple narrative to a complex religious text. By this time, 
the moral degradation of Indra had already started appearing in 
various religious and mythological scripts of the time, which is 
why Ram can no longer continue to be compared to Indra. At 
the same Hme, Vishnu and Shiva started emerging as the main 
gods of the Hindu pantheon, and by the time the epic goes into 
its fourth stage of development, the two gods have completely 
displaced Indra and Brahma from the altar. This is also the time 
when some hostilities had become visible between the followers 
of Shiva and those of Vishnu. 

As the epic develops through the centuries, the social struc- 
ture also moves fro?n the Vedic to the Puranic. The caste system 
emerges by the fourth stage of the epic's development and the 
four vamas or castes are clearly spelt out. The attitude towards 
women also undergoes a change and the emphasis is more on 
s-:bservience to the husband and chastity. A woman is also fre- 
quently seen — by the third stage — as seductress, and by the 
end of the fourth stage, there is a further decline in the status of 


31 



women: The wife has no identity of her own, but is only of 
ornamental value to the husband while in pubUc; widowhood 
is considered inauspicious, with occasional references to the 
practice of Sati; and women are now also expected to eat after 
the men folk of the family. The change in attitude towards 
women in society corresponds to the time when interpolations 
are made in the Ramayan about Ram doubting Sita's chastity 
after the death of Ravan, and even later when the gossip mill in 
Ayodhya forces Ram to banish Sita to Vafmiki's hermitage. There 
are other social changes also that are clearly indicative of the 
changing value system and the growing influence of the Brah- 
minical order: there is a shift from meat eating to cereals; deploy- 
ment of magical and divine weapons becomes more common; 
there is an increased presence of religious images, pilgrimages, 
and places of worship; the lower castes slowly come to be 
despised and confined to the background. But, in spite of such 
significant changes, the Ramayan still does not have a»complete 
sway over the Hindu mind and Ram does not emerge as the 
revered god that he is today till well past the sixteenth century. 
In fact, for a major part of the medieval period, Shaivism is much 
more prevalent than Vaishnavism and even among followers of 
Vishnu, there is no instance of Ram being considered a god. All 
such changes in the characterisation of Ram comes much later. 
The main person responsible for this emergence of Ram in the 
pantheon of gods was the medieval Bhakti poet, Goswami Tul- 
sidas, who composed his version of the Ramayan, Ram Charit 
Manas, in the closing decades of the sixteenth century when he 
lived in Ayodhya. Prior to this, the Ram story had come to have 
so much sway on Indian mind that there were even Buddhist 
and Jain versions of the story. The versions made signiBcant 
departures from the story and have now become controversial 
because the Hindutva advocates want the Ramayan to be seen 
as having stemmed from a singular tradition. 

But, before Tulsidas came to sing and later compose his ver- 
sion of the epic, there were several versions in various languages 


32 



that led to the popularisation of the Ram legend. That the nobility 
of Ram's character had a stirring effect on several writers can be 
gauged by the fact that there are versions of the Ramayan in 
several other Asian languages also. 

By the time the Ramayan was in its third stage of develop- 
ment, not only were various bardic interpolators actively ex- 
panding the epic, but there were also several other writers who 
were using both the existing version as the base for their inde- 
pendent creations, as well as translating Valmiki's original into 
other languages. As the legendary story of Ram spread far and 
wide in India, and in other parts of Asia through itinerants, the 
urge to take the story of the legendary prince among their people 
was irresistible for several writers. 

Among the first such exercises is the Ramopakhyana of the 
Mahabharat. As mentioned earlier, this section of the larger epic 
portrays Ram as an outstanding person, but still retains the 
human characteristics in his portrayal.^^ This is the extent to 
which Ram's character had evolved by the end of the second 
stage of the Ramayan's development, and the basic purpose of 
including Ramopakhyana in the Mahabharat, is to underscore 
the human trait of Ram. But the Ramopakhyana, a portion of the 
Aranyakaparvan of the Mahabharat though an interpolation, is 
not among the later inclusions in the epic because, there are 
portions where Ram k seen in his divine form, as an incarnate. 

By the time the Ramayan was in its third stage of develop- 
ment, the core of the epic's story was being increasingly used by 
authors of religious texts, as well as by writers of classical 
Sanskrit literature. While the use of the epic in religious texts 
aided the theological development of Hindu society, the classical 
Sanskrit works continued with the original tradition of Valmiki. 
The oldest known examples of the classical literary tradition 
usinf the kernel of the Ramayan's story are the two plays, 
Pratimanataka and Abhishekanataka, both currently attributed 
to Bhasa and written sometime in the third century A.D. The 
first play, composed in seven acts, starts with the preparations 


33 



of Ram's installation as the king of Kosala empire, a process that 
is halted by Manthara. The play ends with Ram's victorious 
return to Ayodhya and his meeting with Bharat. The play uses 
the full story of the epic from the Ayodhyakand to the 
Yudhkand, but the events mentioned in the play are selectively 
chosen by the author of the play. The next play by the author is 
basically a drama based on the events of the epic that were left 
out from the first play. Abhisheknat^ka starts with the episode 
detailing the conflict between Vali and Sugriv and Ram's killing 
of Vali and the subsequent reproach by the d)dng Vanar king. 
The play has episodes like Sita's fire ordeal and ends with the 
installation of Ram as the king. In both the plays, the epic poem 
is followed, but this is not completely unexpected, given the early 
period in the development of classical literature. 

Among the early classical literary works, the most well known 
one that is based on the Ram story is Kalidas's long poem 
Raghuvamsa. As indicated by its name, the poet narrates the 
story of the dynasty of Raghu, the Ishkvakus. The genealogy that 
Kalidas follows is in contrast to the one in the Ramayan, but is 
closer to the one presented in the Vishnu Purana, one of the 
religious texts of that time. The poet is aware of the Ultarakand 
as by the time Raghuvamsa was written — in the fourth or fifth 
century A.D. — the first and last books had been added to the 
Valmiki Ramayan. Raghuvamsa made Kalidas very famous, and 
the extent of his impact on early classical literature can be gauged 
from the fact that Krmaradas, a poet living a century later, based 
his work, Jankiharana, to a large extent on Kalidas's poem. This 
poem, while drawing heavily from Kalidas, is however, more 
romantic in form, lays greater emphasis on a naturalistic descrip- 
tion and ends with Ram's triumphant return, and his taking the 
throne. 

The growing schism in Hindu society between various Brah- 
minical sects starts becoming more apparent with the passage of 
time. By the time the next well known literary work based on 
the Ramayan was penned, Brahma and Indra had fallen out of 


34 



favour and the two sects, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, were 
trying to rule Hindu society. This is indicated in the poem titled 
Ravanavadh (or Bhattikavya) written by the poet Bhatti who 
lived in the Valabhi kingdom during the regime of the Maitraka 
rulers between the years 490 A.D. and 650 A.D. Right in the 
beginning, the poet declares that Dashrath worships only Shiva 
and the poem concludes with Shiva, not Brahma, reminding Ram 
of his divine character. Bhatti's poem is a full summary of the 
Ramayan though he pays great attention to the romantic scenes 
of Sundarkand. Together with the battle scenes from Yudhkand, 
these descriptions account for more than half of Bhatti's poem. 
But, in spite of the visible indications of emerging schisms in 
Hindu society, it is interesting to note that even at this late stage, 
all the events narrated in Uttarakand are missing from the poem, 
and there are also no mythological references incorporated into 
the Balkand. 

It was not that the Ram story was used by the Sanskrit poets 
only. During the same period — sixth century A.D. — a narrative 
poem in Prakrit was also written. Called Setuband (or 
Ravanavah), the poem was written by either a king by the name 
of Pravarasena or one of his court poets, and it is restricted, as 
the name suggests, to the period between Ram's attempt to build 
the raised footway over the sea to Lanka, to Ravana's death. 
Also, during this century, the narrative poem stops being used 
to spread the Ram k-gend. There are only two incomplete nar- 
rative poems after this period: Abhinanda's Ramacharitra of un- 
known date and Charkakavi's Janakiparayana, written as late as 
the seventeenth century A.D. and confined to the episode of 
Sita's wedding to Ram. 

However, by the eighth century, drama again dominates the 
literary tradition to propagate the Ram story. After Bhasa's two 
plays, Bhavbhuti, a noted pla 3 rwright, wrote Mahaviracharitra 
anC Uttaramcharitra. By this time, almost every writer began 
taking liberties with the original Valmiki Ramayan and, not 
surprisingly, Bhavbhuti also does the same. His first play narrates 


35 



the main stdry of Ram and ends with his triumphant return to 
Ayodhya, while the latter play works on the themes of Uttarakand 
and centres around the banishment of Sita. Bhavbhuti develops 
considerably the marriage episode of Ram and Sita in 
Mahaviracharitra, and also introduces sub-plots to suggest that 
the roots of animosity between Ram and Ravan lay in Sita's 
decision to spurn the hand of Ravan But, in Uttaramcharitra, the 
dramatist uses the clever method of devising a play within a play. 
This is done in the last act, where the plot is arranged by Valmiki in- 
troduced as a character, who has Sita deciding to throw herself into 
the Ganga, the birth of the twin boys. Ram fainting and finally a 
happy ending when the epic hero is revived by Sita's touch. 

These two plays earned Bhavbhuti a lot of fame. In fact, later 
playwrights were greatly influenced by Bhavbhuti's plays. Shak- 
tibhadra, who wrote Ascrayacudamani in the ninth century, 
relies on Bhavbhuti's model and emphasises on the two episodes 
of Sita giving a jewel to Hanuman and Ravan's attempt tv.> woo 
Sita by donning the disguise of Ram. Plagiarisms of bhavbhuti's 
plays continued through to the ninth and tenth centuries when 
Murari penned Anarghara*. a, Dhiranga wrote Kundamala based 
his drama on Bhavbhuti's Uttaramcharitra, and Rajashekhar 
authored Bal Ramayan. Even the relatively less significant 
dramas Hanumanatak and Mahanatak, compiled in the eleventh 
century, drew heavily from the models of Bhavbhuti, Murari and 
Rajshekhar. But, of greater significance is the play titled 
PrasancU'aghav, wnttenbyjayadev around 1200 AD, for 1 ulsidas 
used this drama as one of his basic sources for Ram Charit 
Manas. This play starts with the now familiar tale of Ravan 
coming to Janak's court to seek the hand of Sita, and the play 
closes with the return to Ayodhya in an aerial car called Pushpak. 
The play emphasises on the romantic tales of the Ramayan and 
is indicative of the change in the character of the Ram story from 
the time it was first penned by Valmiki about a thousand years 
ago. But, there were more changes to come. 

It is obvious that the Ramayan provided the kernel for plots 


36 



to numerous works of literature in Sanskrit and Prakrit and has 
inspired generations of writers. However, while the original epic 
grew on its own accord, thanks to the bardic tradition, the 
dramatists and poets responded to the changing social values by 
coming out with ditferent interpretations. Another significant 
way in which the Ram legend grew and thrived, is the religious 
tradition where Ram's story was recounted in every religious 
text, that started becoming like a stranglehold on Hindu society. 
The most important of these texts, the Puranas, have shown 
considerable acquaintance with the Ramayan, as also the Mahab- 
harat. What is of interest to note is that the Ram story changed 
significantly, in each version in the line of Puranas, the deviations 
in the story depending on the motivation of the writer, and the 
sect of Hinduism he belonged to. It has been established that 
chronologically, each of the Puranas are later day works when 
compared to the original core of the two epics, but there are edso 
indications that the Puranas considerably influenced the later 
interpolations in both the Ramayan and the Mahabharat.’^ The 
earliest of the Puranas, the Vayu Purana and Vishnu Purana, 
have little mention of the Ram story, with the first briefly incor- 
porating the story of Ram and Ravan in its genealogical section, 
and the Vi; hnu Purana including the story of Ram in an avatar 
form while tracing the evolution of the solar dynasty. Even 
though the Vishnu Purana deals mainly with the story of Krish- 
na, it does mention the episodes in Uttarakand of the Ramayan, 
which suggests that from the beginning, the writers of the 
Puranas were keen to project the divinity of Ram more than the 
human character of the epic hero. 

However, the pn.ponents of the Brahminical order were not 
quick to realise the full potential of the divine aspect of Ram's 
character to foster orthodoxy. This is evident in the Matsya 
Purana where, even though Valmiki is mentioned, there Is no 
na^rration of the Ram story. It is clear, through several narrative 
examples, that the author of the Matsya Purana was aware of 
Valmiki's Ramayan, but chose not to incorporate the story in the 


37 



text. The situation started changing by the time the next Parana, 
the Padma Purana, was compiled during the mid-medieval 
period, where the text shows dependence on Kalidas and 
Bhavbhuti and contains extensive narratives from the Ramayan. 
There are several narratives in the Padma Purana which are 
indicative of the direction Hindu society was growing in. For the 
first time. Ram is shown to be suffering from a feeling of guilt 
for having killed Ravan, a Brahmin, and is advised by the sage 
Agastya to perform the ashwamedha \fagna (Vedic horse ritual). 
The Purana also draws heavily from Balkand and Uttarakand, 
as well as from Ramopakhyana of the Mahabharat. 

The text also has a detailed account of all the avatars of Vish- 
nu, including Ram. This section of the narrative follows a pattern 
because Ram is shown to be the incarnate of Vishnu, while his 
brothers are mentioned as manifestations of different aspects of 
Vishnu's existence: Bharat is mentioned as the manifestation of 
the god's Conch, Laxman is shown to be Ananta's fevelation 
while the Sudarshan Chakra manifests itself in the form of 
Shatrughna. There is also a detailed explanation that all the 
deities presiding over the entire universe had been seen by 
Kaushalya, Ram's mother, in his infancy. The fact that this aspect 
of Ram's divinity is incorporated in the story suggests that the 
episode was inspired by the tales of Krishna which had become 
popular by then. It also highlights the fact that the Brahminical 
order had realised the full potential of the divine aspects of Ram's 
story and consciously opted to propagate it. Compilers of 
religious texts were helped by the poetry and drama of Sanskrit 
literature, both of which were popular in a majority of courts of 
the time. 

Several Vaishnav Puranas — Skand, Devi-bhag\'at, Garud, 
Vishnudharmottara to name a few — which were written after 
the Padma Purana, further elaborate on the avatar aspect of 
Ram's story. The four brothers are presented as members of the 
Hindu pantheon, where Ram is the incarnate of Narayana or 
Vasudev, Bharat of Prad)rumna, Laxman of Samskara and 


38 



Shatrughna of A niruddha. There are also some references to Ram 
in various Shaivite Puranas, like the Kurma Purana and the Shiv 
Purana, where the narratives of the Ram story are secondary. In 
the Shiv Purana, for instance, there is an episode where Shiva 
and Sati meet Ram along with Laxman in the forest, while they 
are sorrowfully searching for the abducted Sita, The narrative 
details Sati's scepticism about Ram's version, enables the epic 
hero to figure out the responsibility of the gods of the Hindu 
pantheon, and his responsibility as an avatar. 

But there are indications of Ram's future position in the Hindu 
pantheon of gods in the later Vaishnav Puranas. For instance, in 
the Devibhargava Purana, for the first time the Ramayan story 
is integrated with the worship of the Devi during Sharad 
Navaratri — a popular religious festival among the Vaishnavites 
in northern, western and eastern India even today. Even in the 
subsequent Puranas, Ram is kept on the same level as the estab- 
lished gods of the flindu pantheon In Mahabhagvat Purana and, 
subsequently, in the Brahdharma Purana, the texts are still writ- 
ten in the context of Navaratri worship, thus giving the required 
theological slant. So we have a narrative in which Vishnu and 
other gods seek the help of Shiva, since Ravan is his devotee. As 
a result of these implorings of Vishnu, Lakshmi (now supposed 
to be manifested in Sita), and other gods. Shiv decides to manifest 
himself in the fonr-. of Hanuman. This is also the period when 
the Brahmiiiical order appears to be closing ranks as there are 
narratives of Ram deciding to establish the Shivling on the route 
to Lanka. With every new version of the Purana there is a greater 
association of Ram and his victory over Ravan with the Navaratri 
rituals of Devi wouhip. This is most evident in a later text, the 
Kalika Purana, where the link is greatly emphasised. This 
development has a great bearing on the continuous evolution of 
the Ram legend and his subsequent deification, as is apparent 
from the fact that even today the festival of Dusshera — to mark 
the victory of Ram over Ravan and the demon king's death — 
coincides with Vijay Dashami, the day when the Devi is believed 


39 



to have slain the demon, Mahisasur. Hence, by the time the 
religious texts completed the task of providing Hindu society 
with a set of structured rituals that had to be followed, the link 
between Ram and the Devi had been firmly established. 

Ram Legend Spreads 

We have, so far, followed the growth and development of the 
Ram story and of Valmiki's original through different streams. 
While the bardic tradition aided in making interpolations in the 
sage's original work; literature provided a constant stream of 
new interpretations of the story; and religious texts helped in 
furthering the theological aspects of the story. But, these three 
forms are not the only ones which have contributed to the suc- 
cessful elevation of an epic hero to a revered god, whose final 
day of triumph coincides with the ritual of Devi worship. There 
have also been latter-day recastings of the epic, whi^h reflect a 
much greater theological and sectarian fervour — the well 
known ones being the Yoga^ ashishtha Ramayan, the Adhyatma 
Ramayan, the Adbhuta Ramayan and the Bhushandi Ramayan. 
All these versions, in Sanskrit further took away the original 
humanness of Ram's character and contributed to the growing 
halo of divinity around him and all the characters of the epic. 

Hov/ever, literary and religious texts in Sanskrit and Prakrit 
alone did not complete Ram's evolution from a martial hero to 
a revered god. As the Ram legend spread far and wide — first 
within India and later to several other Asian countries — writers, 
translators and interpolators took substantial liberty with the 
original composition, keeping in mind the societal needs of the 
time and place, where the new versions were composed. 

One of the first adaptations in an Indian language other than 
Sanskrit and Prakrit, was Iramavataram, a Tamil version written 
by Kamban. Though the time when it was authored is debated, 
it is most likely to have been written between the ninth and the 
tenth centuries. Significantly, the text is close to the version in 

40 



the Purana as extant then, and is now the oldest version of the 
devotional treatment of the Ram story in a living language in 
India. (Advocates of the Hindutva idea would like to believe that 
Sanskrit continues to be a living language in India, though reality 
points to the contrary.) It is not that the spread of Ram's story 
in southern India had to wait till the time when Kamban decided 
to translate the epic poem. Besides allusions to the Ram story 
even in earlier Tamil literary works, inscriptions of the Ramayan 
in Karnataka, which echo the concept of the ideal man in the 
opening section of the Balkand, is noticeable even in the early 
seventh century. But Kamban's work heralded the adoption of 
the Ram story in a big way by various writers from south India. 
While Abhinava Pampa wrote the Pampa Ramayan in Kannada 
in the eleventh century, it was followed by the Malayalam ver- 
sions titled Ramacharitram and Ramakathapattu. These two are 
based primarily on the translation of Kamban's Iramavataram 
and are partial versions of the epic, mostly restricted to the 
Yudhkand. The aim of the authors of these works was to drive 
home the concepts of valour and sense of duty in Ram. There 
were other versions also in various south Indian languages, in- 
cluding the Attiyatuma Ramayan, by Ezuttaccan, the best known 
Malayalam version that is based on the sectarian Adhyatma 
Ramayan. In 1 elugu, another Dravidian language, there are cur- 
rently three versions of the epic, but none of them have ever 
acquired a predominant position. The oldest adaptation was 
compiled in the thirteenth century by a poet named Ranganath, 
while the next was written a century later by a writer called 
Hulakki Bhaskar. The last adaptation of the Ramayan in Telugu 
was done in the sivteenth century. 

It should be noted that adaptations of the Ramayan in south 
India were done before such attempts were made in other north In- 
dian languages. This fact has an important bearing on the. basic 
r . .ison why people from south India have not been traditional fol- 
lowers of the Ram story, and are predominantly Shaivite. It must 
alsobeunderstO(7d that none of the south Indian adaptations of the 


41 



epic poem, except those based on sectarian recastings, dwelt at 
length on the divine characteristics of Ram. Most of these adapta- 
tions stuck to the basic core of the story of Ram as a martial hero, 
duty bound to protect his kingdom, his family and also to follow 
the laws of society. All adaptations were primarily accounts of the 
moral aspects of Ram's character. 

By the late fourteenth century, the story of Ram had come to 
have popular echoes in several parts of India. So far, the evolu- 
tion of the Ram legend had been aided by bards who popularised 
and added to Valmiki's original; by classical literature; through 
various religious texts; and, as we have just seen, through adap- 
tations in various languages of south India. However, at this 
stage. Ram had not yet been exalted to the status of god in the 
Hindu consciousness even though several versions proclaimed 
Ram to be an incarnation of Vishnu. The story more widely 
accepted was that of a brave king who sacrificed his personal 
aspirations for dharmn, a person who represented the good and 
was always eager to lead a battle against evil forces. * 

The late fourteenth century was also the time when several 
adaptations were done in other languages in India. The first major 
adaptation of the Ramayan, in an Indian language other than 
Sanskrit, Prakrit, or any of the south Indian languages, was the 
Bengali version composed by the poet Krittivyas in the fifteenth 
century. I'his version gave rise to a spate of Bengali adaptations, in- 
cluding one by the poetess Chandravati in the sixteenth century 
and others by Dvija Madhukanlha, Kavichandra and Nityanand 
Acharya. In the version penned by Krittivyas, there are indications 
of Buddhist influences, an aspect borne out by the fact that in Ben- 
gal, there were still several remnants of Buddhism at that time. 
During the same period, adaptations were also done in many more 
languages — Oriya, Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi and, of course, in 
Hindi. Barring some deviations, almost all are based on the 
prevalent versions of the Ramayan. Depending on the author's 
outlook, the emphasis on the source varies — while some of the 
writers primarily depended on sectarian recastings, others based 


42 



their work on religious texts, or even on the bardic tradition and 
Valmiki's original. 


Ram Becomes Part of Folklore 

However, in north India, none of these adaptations led to the 
kind of popularisation of the Ram story as Goswami Tulsidas's 
work. Ram Charit Manas, did. The poet, who belonged to the 
medieval Bhakti tradition, started writing his version in 1574 in 
Ayodhya, and completed it after several years in Varanasi. Ram 
Charit Manas became immensely popular even during the 
lifetime of Tulsidas, and is still one of the most popular versions 
of the story. In fact, this version has virtually become the stand- 
ard Ramayan in several parts of India. In a way, when Tulsidas 
penned it, the time was ripe for the rise of a writer to popularise 
the Ram story. Ever since Valmiki composed the original epic 
poem, the Ramayan had a large following, but its sweep was 
never as wide. The story had grown through the centuries, many 
details had been incorporated, the basic nature of Ram had un- 
dergone a transformation. The deification of the martial hero had 
been mor. or less completed. But he was still not popular at the 
level of folklore and had not quite penetrated the consciousness 
of the people. The legend of Ram remained restricted to the court 
and theologists. But in a single stroke, Tulsidas managed to make 
the Ram story popular. The traditional staging of Ramlila, a 
popular form of theatre on Ram's life, is primarily based on 
Tulsidas's work and is prevalent even today in many parts of 
north India. The actual beginning of the 'Ram cult' started in this 
region, only after the popularisation of Ramlila. The contribution 
of Tulsidas in popularising the story of Ram has never been 
denied, but it is of special significance now, given the pre- 
eminent position of Ram in the political theatre of India. 

Tulsidas, in his attempt to write the story of Ram .n the 
Avadhi dialect of, Hindi, opted to base his work on several ex- 
isting versions of the Ramayan and its story, instead of just a 

43 



single version. He drew from the original t&ct, the Puranas, and 
extensively from the Adhyatma Ramayan. In fact, the Ram 
Charit Manas is conspicuous by its non-sectarian use of source 
material.^^ Tulsidas did not opt to maintain the proportional 
division between various books of the Valmiki Ramayan, but 
chose to give greater emphasis to certain sections. Balkand is the 
longest of all the books in Tulsidas's work and, alongwith the 
Ayodhyakand, it accounts for nearly two thirds of the total 
length of the work. This contributed to the popularisation of 
Ram's divinity and extensive chapters focusing on his character, 
aided the gradual acceptance of Ram as an exemplary figure. An 
important aspect of T ulsidas's work is his emphasis on the Bhakti 
aspect and the philosophical portions of his work. In fact, Tul- 
sidas was not the only Bhakti poet who, while translating, 
created a new version of the story of Ram. It was done in Marathi 
also by the medieval poet Eknath, who died in 1599, leaving the 
Bhavarth Ramayan incomplete. This work is also of great sig- 
nificance as considerable attention has been devoted to the 
philosophical and theological sections of the book. The writer 
also extolled the concept of Ram Rajya, the kingdom of god on 
earth where Ram was the upholder otdhartm. 

By the time the Bhakti movement had become a nation-wide 
phenomenon, the story of Ram had spread not only to every 
nook and corner of India, but also in several other countries of 
Asia. The story of Ram travelled to China, Japan, Tibet, In- 
donesia, Burma, Vietnam, Java, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, 
Thailand, a id the Philippines. It was taken to these countries 
mostly by travellers and pilgrims who had visited India and by 
the end of the seventeenth century, there were many versions of 
the story in these countries. The trend of making adaptations of 
the basic plot continued with some of these versions presenting 
Ram as a person who was Buddha in his previous life. These 
texts had the Buddhist philosophy as its theological core, but the 
episodes of the Ramayan were common on many occasions. In 
some countries, the story of Ram became so popular, that the 


44 



kings started adopting the title of Ram. It is important to note 
that in all these versions. Ram's popularity was related to his 
martial abilities and sense of morality. The kings who adopted 
the title of Ram, did so for these reasons, and not for any associa- 
tion of divinity with Ram's character. 

It is clear that in the initial stages of the evolution of Ram's 
story from the time Valmiki composed the original epic, the 
climax lay in the military defeat of Ravan. Even at this stage, 
there were some moral components to Ram's character under- 
scored by his obedience to Dashrath when banished. During the 
trio's travails in the jungles. Ram dons the mantle of a kshatriya 
when protecting the harassed hermits from demons. At this 
stage. Ram is still human though constantly compared to Indra 
— but that is more because of Indra's position as the king of 
gods than any divine trait in Ram. However, divinity is slowly 
introduced into Ram's character, even though he is still viewed 
as a human. This is also the time when there is an increasing 
realisation among the theologians as well as others involved in 
furthering the story of Ram, that he can no longer be compared 
to Indra because of the latter's declining status. This is the time 
when there are substantial additions to the Ram story in the form 
of the Balkan-’ and Uttarakand. This is also the time when the 
Ramopakhyana is added in the Mahabharat. 

However, there are already indications of Ram's future 
deification when Bhasa, in his plays, views Ram as a divine 
person. This is also the time when religious influence in the 
growth of Ram's story, starts becoming apparent. But, by the 
end of the twelfth century, there is a greater emphasis on the 
divine nature of Ram, and allusions of his being an incarnate of 
Vishnu is common belief. As the story of the legendary Ram 
evolves, contradictions in Hindu society also start becoming ob- 
vious. Ram's youth is remodelled on the life of Krishna, projected 
as ar.jther avatar of Vishnu. There is also struggle between the 
followers of Shiva and Vishnu, first manifest in Ravan's worship 
of the Shivling and later, in the interpolation in some Puranas 


45 



which have Ram installing a Shivling on the way to Lanka. With 
the Brahminical order gaining ground. Ram becomes an impor- 
tant member of the Hindu pantheon. This is greatly aided by 
popular literature — most significantly Tulsidas — in making 
the story of Ram a part of folklore. By the time the British came 
to have political hegemony over India, Ram's position in the 
pantheon of gods was no longer in doubt. The character by that 
time epitomised what Valmiki seeks to ask Narada, a significant 
m3rthological sage, in his work: 

"Who in the world nowadays is exemplary and courageous, 
right-minded and grateful, truthful and resolute? Who adheres 
to virtue? Who is kind to all?" 

Coupled with such a powerful character, the avatar concept 
which has gained acceptance through the ages, makes it man- 
datory for every practising Hindu to revere Ram. So it was only 
natural that in a country like India, the image of Ram should be 
used for political gains. This was first done by Mahatma Gandhi 
when, in the midst of the national movement, he talked about 
his vision of Ram Rajya. From the beginning, advocates of Hin- 
dutva recognised the dominant position of Ram in the Hindu 
consciousness and the potential of using him as an icon in their 
political strategy. However, their political adversaries failed to 
realise the power in the image of Ram, giving the proponents of 
Hindutva the opportunity to interpret Ram's character in a man- 
ner that would suit both their immediate and long-term political 
strategies. Valmiki had ended his marathon composition thus: 
"Here ends the story and its sequel, the prime Ramayan graced 
by Brahma and composed by Valmiki". Clearly, Valmiki is being 
proved wrong as the story of Ram has surely not ended in India... 



CHAPTER 3 


Ayodhyakand 




And the min roads of Ayodhya 
Were scattered with flowers 
And the perfume of incense 
By the rejoicing citizens; 

And massive trees, tall as torches, 

Turned night into day; 

And there was noisy joy 
At the crossroads 

And the city of Ayodhya, teeming with 
crowds.... 

From The Ramayan's Ayodhyakand 


TT he highway that leads to several districts of eastern Uttar 
Pradesh from the state capital of Lucknow, cuts through the twin 
towns of Faizabad ^nd Ayodhya. The two towns, in fact, merge 
into each other and on the crowded stretch of the road — replete 
with an assortment of slow moving vehicles — it is difficult to 
step on the accelerator. Shortly before the police barrier which 
announces your entry into the temple-town, a dirt-track branches 
off the highway. After crossing the railway lines running parallel 
to the highway, the track comes to an end in front of an imposing 
white, typically Islamic, budding called the Yateemkhana or- 
phanage. The building is adjacent to the 'Bari Bua' or the big 
graveyard, a place where the Muslims of the two towns prefer 
to bury their dead. 

The Yateemkhana orphanage is the place where the Muslims 

49 



of Ayodhya had come for shelter after the organised attacks 
against them on December 6, 1992, destroyed their property and 
left 18 of their brethren dead. At the height of its activity as a 
'relief camp', the Yateemkhana housed close to 4,000 Muslims 
from Ayodhya. The comers of the rooms functioned as hearths 
as adults tried to protect the children against the raging cold 
winds. They had "failed to protect their children from the com- 
munal frenzy, but could at least provide them a warm shelter".' 
The relief camp was administered by local leaders of the com- 
munity who kept records of any aid that filtered through to the 
Yateemkhana from Muslims living in other towns. Predictably, 
government aid was tardy. The senior-most civil administrator, 
the District Magistrate, when questioned, doled out figures. In 
the first instance, he said 554, then hastily corrected it to "778 
blankets" were distributed among the people sta 5 nng in the 
Yateemkhana. The magnitude and scale of attacks on Muslims 
in the 70-odd hours of mayhem after the demolitionwDf the Babri 
Masjid, and the subsequent sluggishness of the local administra- 
tion in providing speedy aid ana relief to the victims and 
promptly investigating the manner of rioting, have left the Mus- 
lims of Ayodhya bitter. This trend continued long after the riots 
with Muslims being accused of violating building by-laws for 
repairing their damaged houses. It is obvious that the Muslims 
of Ayodhya, had no other place to go to after the attacks on them, 
except the local orphanage. 

However, two months later, on February 6, 1993, the scene at 
the Yateemkhana was one of gaiety. Festivities were in the air 
as young, colourfully dressed girls trooped in and out of the 
building. Inside, in the massive courtyard, elders of the com- 
munity distributed small packets containing a set of new uten- 
sils. The young giris were delighted at receiving the gifts. 
Outside the orphanage, several rickshaws were lined up and the 
people were loading them with all that was left of their belong- 
htS®* The Muslims of Ayodhya had chosen this day to return to 
what used to be their homes. Only two months ago they were 


50 



the victims of a systematic attempt to ethnically cleanse Ayodhya 
and drive out all the Muslims — a move which had faint echoes 
in the past. But, with the fervour gone for the moment, the 
displaced inhabitants of Ayodhya were keen to return and start 
afresh. They had earlier visited their homes and surveyed the 
damage done to their property. Their neighbours — including 
some who had participated in the attacks on them — had 
pledged protection and asked them to come back. One victim at 
the Yateemkhana emphatically declared that Ayodhya was, after 
all, his "janmabhoomi" too, and that he too had every right to 
live there. 

It had never been an easy existence for Muslims in Ayodhya 
particularly so, after the VHP-led agitation came to the fore. In 
the early years after the dispute first surfaced, the Muslims were 
docile because of the humilating experiences of the Partition. The 
Muslims of Ayodhya also found no support from Muslims 
elesewhere and the disarray in their ranks is best underscored 
by the fact that the first legal claim on the Babri Masjid was made 
by Muslims in 1961, 12 years after the idols were installed. 

The Muslims had chosen this day to return to their homes not 
because the dale on the calendar marked exactly two months 
since the demolition — such considerations were far from their 
minds. They were returning because the next day was Shab-e- 
Barat, the Muslim festival comparable to the Christian All Souls' 
Day, when Muslims pray for their dead. They had to pray for 
the safe entry of their dead into heaven, including those killed 
two months ago, and this could not be done unless the fire was 
rekindled in their homes. As the families bundled into the wait- 
ing rickshaws, their apprehensions about returning to the homes 
they were once hounded out of, were different. The women's 
concerns largely centered around the food that had to be CQolosd 
f -:' the next day and wondering where the provisions would 
come from. Would the neighbourhood shopkeeper continue to 
give them revolving credit? The men were worried about 
reconstructing the damaged houses. Where would the money 


51 



for repair come from? The miserly amount that the government 
had fixed as compensation for the damage wreaked on their 
properties^ would most certainly not suffice. Reports about 
Hindu traders dealing in construction materials having hiked 
their prices with the prospect of business coming their way, were 
already doing the rounds. The men were equally concerned 
about the safety of their families. Though promised protection 
by neighbours, apprehensions lurked in their minds as the rick- 
shaws slowly made their way towards Ayodhya. A newspaper 
article stated that though the "Muslim residents do not want to 
leave (Ayodhya), they are apprehensive about their future".^ The 
men were also worried about how their children would react 
when they reached home and found nothing there. The children 
had been witness to the attacks and had overheard animated 
discussions among adults during their stay at Yateemkhana, but 
had not ventured to go to Ayodhya till now. However, for the 
moment, such thoughts did not bother the children. A majority 
of them viewed their stay at the orphanage as a 'picnic' and all 
that they thought about was that the next day was Shab-e-Barat 
— a day when they could play all day, burst crackers, wear new 
clothes and, above all, eat haliva, a traditional north Indian des- 
sert and a must in every Muslim home on the day. 

But on that day, even if the Muslims of Ayodhya had decided to 
put the events of December 6 behind them and return to their 
homes, the town still bore the unmistakable signs of the demoli- 
tion. At the Babri Masjid site, the debris of the historical shrine lay 
scattered all over the mound on which it had stood. Some artefacts, 
which had reportedly surfaced during the demolition, were 
dumped in the building from where leaders of the VHP and BJP 
had overseen the levelling of the masjid. A semi-naked sadhu 
seemed to turn delirious when he approached the rubble of the 
Babri Masjid, shouting he would not rest till a magnificent temple 
was built there and Ram was given a decent resting place. Pointing 
in the direction of the hastily erected structure, the old man, who 
had forsaken his family and made the streets of Ayodhya his 


52 



home, said that his heart wept whenever he had darshan of the idols 
kept there. Elsewhere in the town, burnt houses, upturned two- 
wheelers, and smashed up steel almirahs, were indicative of the 
extent of anger against the Muslims. 

The events in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, which led to the 
pulverisation of the Babri Masjid, have been extensively docu- 
mented and publicised by the media. Film footage of the domes 
being hammered down by hundreds of frenzied kar sevaks 
sporting saffron bandanas was broadcast on TV. Photographs of 
the advocates of Hindutva jumping with joy and sitting astride 
the shoulders of others to get a better view of the domes crashing 
down were published in newspapers. However, several 
dramatic events that were unfolding elsewhere in the town went 
relatively urmoticed. 

The onslaught against the Muslims of Ayodhya started even 
as the domes were coming down. While a few hundred kar 
sevaks busied themselves with the construction of the new struc- 
ture, others ransacked Muslim houses, burnt property and even 
killed. This reign of terror lasted for nearly 70 hours — even after 
the state government had been dismissed and Central rule im- 
posed within hours of the demolition. But, while the meticulous 
destruction of the Babri Masjid has become a watershed in Indian 
history, the subsequent attacks on the Muslims of Ayodhya have 
been pushed into the background. It seems, on that day, the 
saffron dust that rose from the destroyed domes overpowered 
the black smoke rising from the burnt houses of Muslims. And 
the smoke continued to emanate long after the dust from the 
debris of the mosque settled down. 

Both the demolition of the mosque and the attacks against the 
Muslims were cleverly executed. Even though the proponents 
of Hindutva maintain that all that happened in Ayodhya on 
December 6, 1992 was spontaneous, subsequent evidence does 
not corroborate this. The demolition of the shrine was not the 
handiwork of novices, but of people who knew how to go about 
their job. Over-enthusiasm on the part of some kar sevaks, who 


53 



did not belong to the trained core of demolishers, led to some 
deaths and injuries when the first dome collapsed at 1.55 p.m. 
— barely two hours after the action had started. This led to the 
core group taking charge anct in the subsequent phase of the 
demolition, no one climbed atop the domes. The base of the 
shrine was attacked and once gaping holes appeared, big iron 
hooks were fixed on the walls and pulled by the demoUshers. 
Also the fact that the action was temporarily halted while the 
idol was removed by one of the important priests connected with 
the VHP, makes it amply clear that the demolition was an or- 
ganised act. In fact, the unruly frenzy lasted only until the first 
dome collapsed but, after it became apparent that there would 
be no opposition from the police, the demolition was executed- 
with planned precision. 

The attacks on the Muslims of Ayodhya were carried out in 
a similar maimer. The first act was to torch the homes of Muslims 
in the vicinity of the Babri Masjid. Selective targetingwas done 
only later when it was clear that there was no one to enforce law 
and order in the town. 

What lends credence to the charge that the attacks on Muslims 
in Ayodhya were pre-planned and meticulously executed, is the 
fact that unlike other towns and cities in India, there are no 
Muslim ghettos in the temple-town. Houses of Hindus and Mus- 
lims stand cheek by jowl in every colony in the town, and the 
people have lived in harmony for centuries in spite of the con- 
tentious dispute over the now demolished shrine. Barring the 
odd one, the facades of the houses do not indicate the religion 
of the owner. In December 1992, however, the houses were tar- 
geted one by one, without even one instance of an erroneous 
attack on a Hindu household. The mobs had clearly been 
provided with lists of Muslim households and this would not 
have been f>ossible without the support of local Hindu residents. 
There are two very small Muslim pockets in Ayodhya — Alam- 
ganj Katra and Society — and both these were destroyed in the 
attacks following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. A journalist 


54 



records: "These neighbourhoods had been completely destroyed, 
especially Society mohaUah with its twenty-odd houses reduced 
to rubble and the minars of the tiny masjid, strewn about on the 
grass. Most of the bricks from the houses were dated 1924".^ 
The same report continues: "But perhaps the most gruesome 
act of violence was committed in Tehdi Bazar the colony that 
housed Muslim artisans who supplied 12,000 pair of wooden 
sandals to the VHP when they launched yatras in October 1992. 
(The sandals were meant to symbolise the mythological sandals 
of Ram that his brother Bharat kept as a mark of authority while 
he ruled in proxy from nearby Nandigram) just behind the dis- 
puted site and adjacent to a vacant plot of land where many of 
the kar sevaks camped during their stay at Ayodhya. Thirteen- 
year-old Tony and his father, Shaukat, a school teacher, were cut 
into pieces by sword-wielding kar sevaks and then burnt on the 
ckabutra of their house. Shreds of blood stained clothing were 
still lying at the spot where they had been lynched". Not a single 
house belonging to a Muslim was spared in the violence that 
followed the demolition on December 6, 1992. It appeared "as if 
the kar sevaks had gone around with a voters' list in their hands. 
There was nothing spontaneous about the violence, just as there 
was nothing spontaneous about the assault of the Babri Masjid".® 
However, in spite of the fervent desire of the advocates of the 
Hindutva idea, Aycdhya remained ethnically cleansed for barely 
two months. And, in spite of the hatred against Muslims that 
reigned supreme on that fateful Sunday, once the initial euphoria 
had disappeared, several Hindu residents of the temple town 
had started accepting their Muslim neighbours back. They later 
blamed the violence to an aberration in behaviour. For the Mus- 
lims also, there was little option but to return to Ayodhya. Com- 
ing mainly from the working class, options for migrating to other 
cities were further restricted after similar targeted attacks on 
Muslims in Bombay — the commercial and industrial capital of 
India. There were* also instances of Hindus pledging to protect 
their Muslim neighbours in the event of another attack. In the 


55 



Tehdi Bazar colony, Ramshankar (a Hindu) has (in January 1993) 
welcomed Qasim (a Muslim) and his family to his home. He has 
publicly declared: "Anyone who tries to kill Qasim, will have to 
kill me first".® 

Several Muslims in Ayodhya also seem to possess an unnerv- 
ing amount of grit. Take the case of Mohammed Hashim Ansari, 
a 72-year-old tailor, who is the main litigant from the Muslim 
side in the ongoing legal battle for the control of the disputed 
site. His house, adjacent to the only dharamke^nta (weighbridge) 
on the highway connecting the twin towns, was specially tar- 
geted by kar sevaks as he had come closest to the image of Babur 
(the first Mughal emperor who is considered to have ordered 
the construction of the Babri Masjid), who the VHP and its sup- 
porters were seeking to take revenge on. His house was attacked 
twice — once before December 6, 1992 forcing the local ad- 
ministration to post a handful of policemen outside his house, 
and later when hatred against the Muslims spread all (wer Ayod- 
hya. When the kar sevaks broke into his house in the afternoon 
of December 6, not finding either Ansari or any member of his 
family inside, they roasted alive the goats and the hens that had 
been reared to supplement the family income. Every single item 
of valuable was taken away, a steel almirah was overturned and 
beaten out of shape and choicest abuse was scrawled on the walls 
with charcoal. Smeared over one smashed door was a sign of 
visible anger: "Hashim, now it is your turn." Another bit of 
graffiti sought to rationalise the hatred against the family: "You 
suffer because you are a descendant of Babur." 

Yet, the man was resolute on returning to his house again. 
While overseeing the minimal repair that he had been able to 
organise, Ansari said, "why should I leave Ayodhya? If we do 
then we will be doing just what they want. I will stay here and 
still try to seek justice".^ A God-fearing Muslim, Hashim Ansari 
got embroiled in the dispute not out of choice. When the local 
administration registered the first legal case in December 1949 
after a mob of Hindu devotees entered the Babri Masjid and 


56 



installed the idols of Ram, Ansari was impleaded in the case as 
he was one of the few Muslims of eminence in Ayodhya. That 
started his involvement with the dispute which has continued 
for more than 40 3 rears and in the process, be has been forced to 
close shop, leaving all money matters to be managed by his 
brother and those of the next generation in the family. There 
have been allegations that Ansari had received a lot of money 
for his illegal campaign, but there was never any visible signs of 
wealth during the several meetings with him since 1986. What 
however, has grown tremendously over the years, is Ansari's 
earthy political sense. A semi-literate man, Ansari was a man of 
few words in 1986. He preferred the 90-)rear-old Abdul Ghafoor, 
who used to lead the namaz at the Babri Masjid before the 
installation of the idols, to do all the talking. For specific legal 
queries, Ansari would direct people to a Muslim lawyer in 
Faizabad who was handling the case gratis. 

In all our meetings, Ansari had sounded hopeful. There was not 
a single occasion when he equated all the Hindus of India with the 
VHP and its allies. "This is a political battle to come to power. They 
are just feeding the minds of Hindus with lies. There is nothing 
wrong with the Hindus, they are, after all, my countrjonen," An- 
sari would often say. He took pride in the fact that during Partition, 
not a single Muslim family left Ayodhya to migrate to Pakistcm, 
while several of them moved from Faizabad. " If we were safe then, 
nothing will happen to us now," he used to say. Even when his 
hopes were shattered, Ansari said that he would continue staying 
in Ayodhya, in his own house, because he symbolised the secular 
aspirations of a large number of Indians. "I will have to leave 
Ayodhya after India becomes a Hindu Rashtra, but till that time I 
will continue living here and test each political party and every 
single leader so that 1 know whom to trust when my final hour 
comes".* However, not everyone in his own family shared 
Ansari's optimism and bravado. Barely sbc months after the 
demolition, his younger brother, staying in the house adjacent, put 
up a 'house for immediate sale' sign atop the tenement.’ 


57 



But, it would be incorrect to say that Hindus and Muslims 
had cohabitated peacefully in Ayodhya prior to the demolition 
of the Babri Masjid. Since the VHP launched the agitation for the 
"liberation of Ram Janmabhoomi", there were some isolated 
cases of arson in 1990 after attempts to demolish the disputed 
shrine were thwarted by the state government headed by 
Mulayam Singh Yadav. But even prior to 1947 when India at- 
tained Independence, Ayodhya had witnessed the two com- 
munities clashing on some occasions. There was at least one clash 
in which the Babri Masjid was substantially damaged. There 
were also some deaths reported in these clashes. 


Conflicts Begin 

By the nineteenth century, Ayodhya was an important centre in 
the kingdom of Awadh even though the capital had shifted to 
Lucknow in 177.5, after Asif-ud-Daulah abandoned Faizabad. 
Also by this time, since the story of Ram was thriving, the field 
was clear to sow the seeds of discord among Hindus and Mus- 
lims, living harmoniously here. This was done in a systematic 
manner by Imperial power, aided by the nascent animosity be- 
tween the two communities and an ineffective kingdom of 
Awadh. 

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the kingdom of 
Awadh was in its final stage of decline. Even though Ayodhya 
continued to be a part of the sovereign state of Awadh, it had 
been put under administrative and revenue control of the British 
Resident based in Lucknow under the Treaty of 1819. The same 
year the kingdom formally announced its decision to move away 
from the control of Delhi. Awadh had been made a part of the 
Delhi Sultanate after Akbar embarked on his eastward expan- 
sion. It was in 1853 that Hindus and Muslims fought the first 
bloody battle. The acrimony continued for two years and ended 
in 1855 only after the elders of the two communities thrashed 
out a settlement of sorts. When fracing the development of this 

58 



period, is it becomes clear that while the British Resident prac- 
tically did not intervene in the continuing clash, the Nawab of 
Awadh made feeble attempts to settle the dispute and con- 
tributed to the final settlement which kept the dispute at bay, 
for several decades. 

By the time the dispute between the Hindu sants and the local 
Muslims came out in the open in 1853, the belief had spread 
among Hindu priests that the mosque — then called Jami Masjid 
or Masjid Sita Rasoi because it was located next to a Hindu 
temple to mark Sita's kitchen — was built by Babur after 
demolishing a temple which marked the birthplace of Ram. Even 
as the Hindu priests argued their case, the Muslims reacted by 
claiming the Hanuman Garhi, a massive fort like temple at the 
base of the hill where the mosque was situated. The Muslims 
claimed that the Hanuman Garhi was a mosque built by 
Aurangzeb which had been surreptitiously taken over by a 
Plindu priest. These disputes recurred time and again and, in 
1853, the Hindu priests took over the mosque and drove out the 
Imam who used to manage the affairs of the shrine. The priests 
who spearheaded this takeover were Vaishnavite bairagis who 
iiad frequently clashed with the Shaivite sanyasis. There are 
reports that while this takeover was peaceful, trouble started 
brewing when the bairagis expelled one priest from their ranks, 
who then went to Lucknow and spread the rumour that the 
Hindus had destroyed the mosque.^‘‘ The cause of the mosque 
was immediately embraced by Moulvi Amir Ali, a descendant 
of Sheikh Bandagi Mian, a famous Sufi saint cf Amethi. The 
Moulvi was in Lucknow at that time to seek a renewal for his 
rent-free land grant and thought, that if he adopted the cause of 
the mosque at Ayodhya, it would enhance his status and give 
him a foothold in the Nawab's court. The Nawab returned to 
Amethi and immediately declared a jehad for the restoration of 
the mosque which, by now, was being referred to as the Babri 
Masjid. The Moulvi was successful in herding together an armed 
combine from among the Muslims and some lower caste Hindus. 


59 



The poet king, Wajid Ali Shah, was a distuibed man when he 
leamt of this plan to march to Ayodhya. Emissaries were sent 
to Amethi to ask the Moulvi to return to Lucknow. This suited 
the Moulvi whose basic purpose had been served. Wajid Ali Shah 
also ordered that the mosque be restored to the Imam, who had 
been hounded out by the bairagts. But, the king's orders were 
not carried out, prompting the Moulvi to head towards Ayodhya 
with his forces and camp at Daryabad, a place between Amethi 
and Ayodhya. Wajid Ali Shah also asked the British Resident to 
take action in Ayodhya but when the British refused, he dis- 
patched his own forces towards the the Moulvi's camp. This 
caused panic in the ranks of the rebels and half of them fled. 
Meanwhile, the first regiment of the Oudh Irregular Regiment 
was ordered to halt the progress of the Moulvi and his men. The 
two forces met at a place called Shahganj on the highway be- 
tween Amethi and Ayodhya, and the armed conflict that raged 
for several hours was decided in favour of the British forces. The 
Moulvi was killed and his head was sent to the Nawab, following 
which the Moulvi came to be regarded as a martyr — an annual 
fair was held in his memory at a place in Bara Banki district for 
close to 50 years. 

But the clash between Moulvi Amir Ali's forces and the British 
troops did not alter the situation in Ayodhya. Th< Hindu priests 
continued to have total control over the mosque which, by now, 
was openly referred to as the Babri Masjid. The Muslims also 
mounted their campaign to drive out the Hindu priests from 
Hanuman Garhi, which they did in the beginning of 1855. They 
first re-occupied the mosque by force and drove out the Hindu 
bairagi priests. This was followed by a charge on the Hanuman 
Garhi temple and Muslims came up to the steps of the temple. 
The 'Bairagis' drove out the Muslims but, both sides suHered 
substantial human loss. However, the 'Bairagis' after repelling 
the Muslim attackers, tried to regain control of the mosque, and 
mounted an assault on the mosque. There was a pitched battle 
at the gate of the mosque and both sides had heavy casualties. 


60 



However, the 'Bairagis' failed to seize control, and had to retreat 
to the Hanuman Garhi. There are reports that 75 Muslims died 
in these clashes and were buried in front of the mosque and the 
place came to be called Ganj-Shahidan (martyr's place).^^ This 
graveyard was dug up first by the VHP in 1989, when it per- 
formed the ritual of shilanyas ostensibly to lay the foundation 
stone of the proposed new temple; and later by the BJP state 
government in early 1992, when the disputed land was acquired 
to be handed over to the VHP for constructing the temple. The 
graveyard had also been targeted earlier in Hindu-Muslim riots, 
in the aftermath of the Partition of the sub-continent. 

What is apparent from the records of this period is the total 
apathy and partisan approach on the part of the British govern- 
ment in intervening in the dispute, even though Ayodhya was 
under its administrative and revenue control. A British docu- 
ment that mentions the clash of 1855 says: "In 1855 when a great 
rupture took place between Hindus and Muslims, the former 
occupied the Hanuman Garhi in full force while the Muslims 
took possession of the Janmasthan. The Muslims on that oc- 
casion, actually charged up the stairs of the Hanuman Garhi, but 
were driven back with considerable loss. The Hindus then fol- 
lowed up this success, and at the third attempt, took the Janma- 
sthan at the gate of which 75 Muslims were buried in the martyr's 
grave. Eleven Hindus were killed. Several of the King's regiment 
were looking on all the time, but their orders were not to inter- 
fere".^^ 

There are two points to be noted: First, that British forces were 
passive spectators while the bloody clash was going on. Second- 
ly, throughout the leport, the word mosque was not used and 
the disputed place was referred to as Janmasthan — an indication 
of the British bias against the Muslim minority. Both these points 
not only indicate that good governance was not the prime con- 
cern of the British, but also underscores the accepted notion that 
dominant philosophy of colonialism was "divide and rule." In 
this case, there was already a nascent division and the British 


61 



only widened the gap. In fact, in 1855, the British were not really 
concerned about settling the dispute between the Hindus and 
Muslims in Ayodhya, as the goal in front of the colonial power 
was to annex the kingdom of Awadh. Preparations for this had 
already started and Colonel Sleeman, the British Resident in 
Lucknow, was extensively touring the kingdom to cite instances 
that would justify the annexation of Awadh. His report riled to 
the East India Company stated that the authority of the Nawab 
had dwindled greatly, and that the general law and order situa- 
tion in the entire kingdom was extremely appalling. The clash 
in Ayodhya in 1855 was the final citation and it came in handy. 
The British completed the annexation of Awadh in early 1856 — 
the troops moved in following Wajid Ali Shah's refusal to accept 
the British offer of Rs 12 lakh a year. 

The British inactivity in trying to amicably settle the dispute 
between the bairagis and the Muslims of Ayodhya notwithstand- 
ing, Wajid Ali Shah and a significant section of the local popula- 
tion were sufficiently disturbed over the repeated cl^hes ^n the 
town, to make an attempt at reaching a compromise formula that 
would put an end to the dispute and satisfy the warring groups. 
A meeting of the elders of the two communities was convened 
and the British Resident was requested to preside over the ses- 
sion. It was agreed at the meeting that both the communities 
would use the contentious shrine — while the Muslims would 
continue to use the main mosque for offering prayers, the Hindus 
were allowed to use the place outside the main mosque structure, 
but within the compound. This arrangement brought peace to 
Ayodhya and remained so even when the British annexed 
Awadh on February 13, 1856. 

However, more problems were around the comer as the 
simple 'Sepoy Mutiny' against the British in 1857-58 transformed 
itself into a popular uprising against the colonial rulers in 
Awadh. Even as people ro.se in a rebellious mood, and British 
life and property came imder threat, the bairagis of Ayodhya 
came to the rescue of the British. A British account states that 


62 



the British of Faizabad and Ayodhya, were sheltered by the 
priests of Hanuman Garhi^ who also enabled them to escape 
from the rebels, to GondaJ^ 

Naturally, when the British succeeded in quelling the great 
uprising, they were indebted to those who had helped them 
during the crisis, and the bairagis of Ayodhya were clearly on 
the list of people who had to be rewarded for their show of 
loyalty. For the Babri Masjid, this spelt more trouble. The local 
administration (by this time the British could no longer remain 
passive administrators) argued that the communal situation in 
the town had been volatile since 1853, and that the agreement 
of 1855 between the members of the two communities, was not 
a foolproof guarantee against the outbreak of another round of 
violence. The administration further argued that it was time for 
another settlement and that this was not possible unless the spot 
being used by the Hindus was ph 5 rsically demarcated from the 
main mosque building. So the British allowed the bairagis to erect 
a small platform in front of the Babri Masjid. Between the main 
mosque and the platform a grilled fence was erected, called Ram 
Chabutra, which Wcis supposed to mark the place where Ram 
was bom. The local British officials also passed an order whereby 
the Muslims would no longer be permitted to use the main gate 
to the mosque «.>n the eastern side, but were to use the gate on 
the northern side. The Hindus, however, remained free to use 
the main entrance, but were directed not to enter the mosque. 


Colonialism Queers the Pitch 

The fence that was erected by the British within the compound 
of the Babri Masjid in 1859 was sjonbolic of the divide between 
the Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya — something that came 
about only in the first half of the nineteenth century. Similar 
actions by the British accentuated this division among the 
people. The story that the mosque was built after demolishing a 
grandiose Ram temple that marked his birthplace, gained 

63 



popularity only after British involvement in Awadh. Several 
British writers popularised such stories, without making any 
attempt to check their veracity. Soon, these writers and their 
writing had a definite impact on the minds of the administrators 
— blurring the line between fact and fiction, history and legend. 
In fact, much of what was being presented by British writers to 
be the history of India was little more than either what was 
physically seen by them or tales that were narrated to them by 
local residents. For Ayodhya, these writers helped in falsifying 
several aspects of its story and widened the gap between the 
Hindus and Muslims in the town. 

Successive accounts by nineteenth century British writers 
reveal that different versions of the history of a place correspond 
with the changes in popular beliefs of the time. However, there 
is no attempt to put on record that there were indeed changes 
that these were indicative of the social transformation in India. 
This naturally leads to great confusion in piecing together a 
cogent history of Ayodhya. One of the earliest Britislgiocuments 
has "Oude" as a town that is "much celebrated in Hindoo history 
as the kingdom of Dasratham the father of great Rama, who 
extended his empire to the island of Ceylon".*^ However, the 
same document says elsewhere, that "the city of Agra is sup- 
posed to be the birthplace of the Avatar, or the incarnation of 
Vishnu, under the name of Parasu Rama, whose conquests ex- 
tended to and included Ceylon".^® 

Walter Hamilton, the writer of this account also described 
Ayodhya as he saw and perceived it. "Pilgrims resort to this 
vicinity where the remams of the ancient capital of Oude, the 
capital of the great Rama, are still to be seen; but whatever may 
have been its former magnificence, it now exhibits nothing but 
a shapeless mass of ruins. The modern town extends a consi- 
derable way along the banks of the Gogra, adjoining Faizabad, 
and is tolerably well peopled, but inland it is a mass of rubbish 
and jungle, among which are the reputed sites of Rama, Seeta, 
his wife, Lakshman, his general, and Hanuman (a large monkey). 


64 



his prime minister. The religious mendicants who perform the 
pilgrimage are mainly from the Ramtata sect who walk around 
the temples and idols, bathe in the holy pools and perform the 
customary ceremonies".*® 

It is clear that in the second decade of the nineteenth century, 
Hamilton did not find a significant prevalence of the story of 
Babur demolishing a temple to build the mosque on a place that 
marked a "reputed site" of Ram. In fact, there is no suggestion 
in Hamilton's writings that at the time of his visit to Ayodhya, 
the people of the town believed it to be the birthplace of Ram. 

Hamilton's account of Ayodhya was a little different from 
that of the earlier European visitors to Ayodhya. William Finch, 
probably the first European to visit Ayodhya between 1608 and 
1611, also describes the bathing ghats and a fort in ruins. He 
narrates the popular story of Ram — by this time Tulsidas had 
completed the Ram Charit Manas — and says that Ram is con- 
sidered to be an incarnate of Vishnu and that he took on a human 
form. Finch does not make any mention of a mosque built by 
Babur after demolishing a temple, built by a famous king called 
Vikramaditya. He also makes no mention of the belief that the 
town is considered to be the place where Ram was bom. Finch 
is not the only early European wnter who made no mention of 
the controversial story of Babur. It is clear that at a time when 
the British came to have administrative and revenue control of 
Ayodhya in the second decade of the nineteenth century, none 
of the British or other European writers found any trace of the 
popular belief that Ayodhya was Ram's birthplace; that a temple 
built to mark the site h.id been demolished by the Mughal 
emperor Babur in 1 S28 to build a mosque; and that this was a 
matter of contention between the Hindus and Muslims of the 
town. 

However, soon after and corresponding with the growing 
p 'litical ambitions of the colonial regime, the British perception 
of the history of Ayodhya started changing dramatically. The 
story of Ayodhya being the birthplace of Ram came in handy 


65 



for the British writers, who were modelling the official policy of 
the time. At the same time, the belief that Mughal emperors had 
indulged in wanton destruction of 1 lindu temples and the theory 
that the two communities were mutual adversaries, gained 
ground and acceptance in official records. This view was largely 
cemented by Montogomery Martin, a British officer, specially 
deputed by the East India Company to survey eastern India. His 
writings categorically asserted Aurangzeb's negative role in the 
destruction of several Hindu temples which resulted in the 
deterioration of relations between Hindus and Muslims. But 
even in 1838, when Martin wrote his survey report, he doubted 
whether the pillars in the mosque (by now Martin referred to it 
as a mosque built by Babur) were that of a temple. He wrote: "I 
think the existence of such temples are doubtful and if they did 
not exist. It IS probable that the pillars have been taken from the 
ruins of the palace". 

But, whatever element oi scrutiny Martin used in 1838 before 
giving the sanctity ot history to folklore, disappeared completely 
in just about 20 years. In 1860, P. Carnegey, an officer of the 
Bengal Civil Service who was stationed in Paizabad gave official 
sanction to the popular belief. He wrote: "At the time of the 
Muslim conquest theie were three important Hindu shrines and 
little else, the Janmasthan temple, the Swagaddwar and Treta- 
ka-Thakur. The Janmasthan was in Ramkot and marked the 
birthplace of Rama. It seems that in 152S AD, Babur visited 
Ayodhya and under his orders this ancient temple was 
destroyed, and on its site was built what came to be known as 
Babur's mosque. The matenal of the old temple was laigcly 
employed in building the mosque and a few of the original 
columns are all in good preservation".'* Carnegey also suggested 
in his writings that the Mughal emperors destroyed the temples 
because Islam and Muslims are theologically oriented towards 
"enforcing their religion on all tho.se whom they had conquered." 

Thus within a span of four yetirs after the annexation of 
Awadh, the British had introduced the controversy of Babur 


66 



having demolished a temple at the birthplace of Ram in their 
official records. Along with this, the administrative decision to 
erect a barrier within the Babri Masjid compound and earlier 
translations of Babur's memoirs by British writers, in which it 
was wrongly stated that the Mughal emperor visited Ayodhya 
in March 1528, and the mjrth was complete. The British, after 
suppressing the uprising of 1857-58, were in the process of 
cementing their stranglehold on India and could not afford to 
let the "mutual animosity" between the Hindus and Muslims 
die a natural death. The two had to remain warring forces. In 
such a situation, the decision to erect the iron grill fence within 
the Babri Masjid, was S 5 anbolic of the British design to literally 
build a wzdl between the two communities. The divide between 
the two communities was further widened by a succession of 
books by official British historians and other documents. The 
string of gazetteers that followed — the Oudh Gazetteer and the 
Imperial Gazetteer — only aided the transformation of popular 
belief about the Babri Masjid into history. 

By early twentieth century, there was little doubt in the minds 
of the British that the dispute at Ayodhya had no solution. The 
administrators were only interested in containing the dispute to 
prevent it from coming to a boil. This period was also marked 
by hectic political activity in the subcontinent. Even as the 
nationalist forces were gaining ground, religious revivalism was 
also beginning to rear its head. Meanwhile, Ayodhya had by 
now become an important Hindu pilgrimage. 1 he Vaishnavs had 
total sway over the town, with the British openly referring to it 
as a Hindu township while Faizabad w-'as getting the image of 
being a Muslim town. With Hindu revivalism, a dominant trend 
in Ayodhya in the decades bordering the turn of the century, 
several new temples came up. Rulers of smaller states built ash- 
rams and temples in Ayodhya, primarily ftir people of their 
rs gion to stay in, when they came for pilgrimage. Fairs became 
common as traders were quick to seize the opportunity of 
making a quick buck. A British document has recorded that the 


67 



fairs also became a "frequent source" of epidemics. But, that did 
not deter Hindu revivalism in Ayodhya and as the number of 
temples swelled, a need was felt in 1902 to identify the major 
temples that marked the various spots in Ram's life. This com- 
mittee identified nearly 150 temples that were supposed to mark 
various episodes in Ram's life, and money was collected to put 
up stone inscriptions to mark these places. One such inscription 
was also put up on the eastern entrance of the Babri Ma^id. It 
read: 'Shri Ram Janmabhoomi.' The British officials did not object 
to the stone-mark on the main gate of the mosque. This was 
another instance of the British siding with the Hindu revivalists 
in Ayodhya, an association that had started during the uprising 
of 1857-58 when the bairagi priests of Hanuman Garhi had shel- 
tered the British from the rebels. 

However, there were no fresh clashes between the Hindus 
and Muslims in Ayodhya on the old dispute over the shrine. But, 
religious fundamentalism, a growing trend all over India, had 
its impact on the situation in Ayodhya also and in 1912-13 the 
town was rocked by communal violence. The issue however, was 
not the Babri Masjid, but cow slaughter. Even as the town 
returned to normalcy, the communal situation in the region was 
fast deteriorating. By the time the United Provinces elections 
were held in 1926, communalism had come to stay as one of the 
important political factors in India. Conflicts between the two 
communities continued as Hindu revivalists adopted their cow- 
slaughter campaign with greater virulence, and Muslims in some 
parts persisted with the sacrifice of cows at least on ceremonial 
occasions. There was fresh tension in Ayodhya in April 1934, on 
the day of Id-uz-Zuha. The Muslims wanted to sacrifice a cow 
and sought the permission of the local administration. The Chair- 
man of the Municipal Board and the District Magistrate were 
petitioned, and permission was given because the Chairman, 
Dhani Ram, a devout Hindu, found no reason to object to the 
sacrifice. But after the sacrifice was over, the biiiragis once again 
marched to the Babri Masjid and took over the shrine. The zealots 


68 



started destroying the mosque and by the time the police arrived 
after a gap of nearly two hours, the domes of the mosque had 
been destroyed. However, further destruction of the Babri Mas- 
jid was prevented, and the local administration promptly in- 
stituted an inquiry which found the Hindus responsible for the 
riots. The local Hindus were fined and the total amount of more 
than one lakh rupees was used for the repair of the mosque. The 
Muslims got back the control of the Babri Masjid and for the next 
few years the dispute was between the Shias and the Sunnis — 
the two Muslim sects — over the control of the mosque. How- 
ever, the court ruled in favour of the Sunnis even though mem- 
bers of both sects continued to offer prayers here. Barring a few 
occasions when the local Hindus tried to prevent the Muslims 
from congregating at the Babri Masjid, status quo was main- 
tained till 1949 when the story of Ayodhya took a dramatic turn. 

The Early History 

The early history of Ayodhya is bereft of the kind of action 
witnessed in the town since the middle of the nineteenth century. 
Both a contemporary historian and an early account in a British 
gazetteer assert that it is difficult to piece together the history of 
the town in the ancient periods. The contemporary study states; 
"A historical stud\ of Ayodhya in the ancient period is difficult 
because of the scarify and doubtful evidence available. There are 
long gaps which cannot be substantiated by archaeological, 
epigraphic or literary data. We have some evidence, but it 
provides only the most cursory insight into the past".*’ How- 
ever, the British gei.Totteer does not elaborate on the problems of 
det£dling the early history of Ayodhya but merely says that the 
"early history of the district is purely legendary".^ 

Part of the problem of piecing together a cogent history of 
ancient Ayodhya is the absence of a Hindu tradition of writing 
historical accounts. Instead Hindu history is confined to writing 
mere eulogies of the rulers. Given the fact that the custom of 

69 



systematically recording events started in real earnest in India 
only after the advent of the Muslims, a coherent history of Ayod- 
hya can be pieced together only from the twelfth century A.D. 
However, there has been a great deal of confusion among 
scholars regarding the location of the mythological Ayodhya. 
While some argue that the contemporary town is not the place 
referred to in Valmiki's epic, others swear to the contrary. One 
of the factors that has led to this difference of opinion is the lack 
of evidence of early human settlement in Ayodhya. Two ar- 
chaeological teams — one led by scholars of the Benaras Hindu 
University and the other partly sponsored by the Archaeological 
Survey of India (ASI) — have conducted systematic expeditions 
in contemporary Ayodhya. Both concur that human settlement 
in Ayodhya can be dated from the beginning of the seventh 
century B.C. This fact has been disconcerting not only for the 
scholars arguing in favour of the mythological Ayodhya being 
the contemporary town, but also for the supporters of the Hin- 
dutva idea, as it questions their belief of the historicity of Ram's 
character. This discomfort is most apparent in the writings of 
Professor B, B. Lai, who led the ASI sponsored archaeological 
expedition to Ayodhya in the mid-'70s, and has recently been 
one of the proponents of the 'temple demolition-mosque 
building' theory put forward by the VHP. At a time when the 
agitation for the Ram temple at Ayodhya was in its infancy in 
1985-86, Lai wrote: "This site (Lai's team excavated fourteen sites 
at Ayodhya including one trench behind the Babri Masjid) may 
go back to the beginning of the seventh century B.C. at the 
earliest. This indeed, is very uncomfortable evidence, for no one 
had expected the beginnings of Ayodhya to be as late as that, 
particularly when one considers that the Painted Gray Ware 
associated with Mahabharat sites like Hastinapur, etc, antedated 
Ayodhya".^’ 

Predictably, the scholars who contributed to the view that the 
geographical location of the mythological Ayodhya was not in 
the modern township, cited the lack of archaeological evidence 


70 



and interpreted the various verses of the epic to present their 
case. This led to a furious debate that has still not abated even 
though the parameters of the academic argument have altered 
dramatically with the growing power of the Hindutva idea. Lai 
has been one of the staunchest defenders of the theory that 
today's Ayodhya is the city of yore. He stated: "Spearheading 
this attack on the generally accepted identification of the site, 
even now known as Ayodhya in Faizabad district, UP, with that 
of Valmiki Ramayan, M.C. Joshi, one of the directors of ASI, 
published a paper in 1978 in the Puratattva, in which he sought 
to make out a case that Ayodhya was a mythical city, by referring 
to certain verses from 'Taitteiriya Aranyaka'. After fully examin- 
ing these verses as well as other references in Vedic literature, 
the present writer showed that these verses did not contain any 
allusion to a city called Ayodhya. On the contrary, the word 
'ayodhya' was found to have been used in the sense of 
'invincible', and the reference in these verses was to the human 
body which, as abode of god, is invincible".^ There are also 
scholars who believe that the city of Saket, frequently mentioned 
in the ancient Buddhist texts can be identified with Ayodhya. 
Moreover, the Jain texts also mention a city, variously called 
Vishaka, Viniya or Vinit, which can also be identified with Ayod- 
hya. There are other sources which refer to the town as Kosala, 
Maha Kosala, Ishkvakupuram, Rampuri and even Ramjanma- 
bhoomi. 

Whatever the actual position regarding the identification of 
contemporary Ayodhya with the mythological city, it has evoked 
great interest since the beginning of the nineteenth century and 
led to the British cj^nducting the first archaeological survey in 
1862-63 and later tollowing it up with another in 1889-91. The 
first survey, conducted by A. Cunningham, concluded that the 
city of Saket and Vishaka were identical to Ayodhya. Cunnin- 
gham did not find any remains of ancient Hindu temples, though 
he found the remains of Buddhist structures. However, Cunnin- 
gham followed the mythological belief that Ayodhya was the 


71 



city mentioned in the Ramayan. A. Fuhrer, who conducted the 
next survey, also arrived at similar conclusions, though there are 
indications that his was a less intensive survey and based heavily 
on the findings of Cunningham. However, it is relevant that both 
the surve)^ failed to find remains of any ancient Hindu temple 
at Ayodhya. All temple>like structures were Buddhist in charac- 
ter, and this is underscored by the writings of the Chinese 
travellers Fa'Hien and Huen Fsang who visited Ayodhya (called 
0-)m-To in their writings) and described the existence of many 
Buddhist Devpalas. 

The next archaeological expedition in Ayodhya was led by 
Professor A. K. Narayan of Benaras Hindu University in 1969-70. 
His findings indicated that the signs of habitation were not older 
than the fifth century B.C., and that there was a strong Buddhist 
presence in the medieval period. However, the last expedition 
led by Lai was the most extensive as it was a part of the ASFs 
Project Ramayan launched in 1975 to excavate the sites men- 
tioned in the epic. This project was launched by the ASI after its 
success with the excavation of the sites of the Mahabharat. Four- 
teen sites in Ayodhya were excavated, which included places 
like Janmabhoomi and Sita Rasoi, as well as other places men- 
tioned in the epic like Sringaverpur, Bharadvaj Ashram and 
Chitrakoot. The evidence from all the trenches did not indicate 
human settlement pre-dating the beginning of the seventh cen- 
tury B.C. and also indicated the absence of any significant set- 
tlement between the third and the eleventh centuries A.D. In the 
initial stages of the agitation for the Ram temple, the spearheads 
of the agitation maintained that the temple that had been 
demolished, was built during the Gupta period by Vikramaditya. 
However, the archaeological findings negated this theory, as Lai 
recorded: "It is rather remarkable that the Gupta period is not 
significantly indicated at the site".^’ 

From LaTs findings it is clear that while Ayodhya came to be 
an important urban centre in the third century B.C. — there was 
evidence of fortification — it declined in the early medieval 


72 



period and ceased to be an important place after the third century 
A.D. However, the archaeological evidence contradicts the as- 
sociation of Ayodhya with Saket and that of the kingdom of 
Kosala. The common belief that Saket is another name for Ayod- 
hya is challenged in some texts which identify Saket with Sravas- 
ti, the capital of Kosala. Sravasti was located north west of 
Ayodhya on the border of the modem districts of Gonda and 
Bahraich. By all accounts, it is safe to presume that after the 
beginning of human settlement, Ayodhya emerged as an impor- 
tant urban centre of the Kosala empire — which embraced the 
area in eastern UP — and later started declining from the third 
century A.D. as indicated by Lai's archaeological findings. How- 
ever, there is a claim that the town of Saket was "renamed" 
Ayodhya by a Gupta king, Skanda Gupta, in the late fifth century 
A.D. who moved his residence to Saket and called it Ayodhya. 
But this theory is not backed by the archaeological evidence. 
Indeed, the basic problem in tracing the early history of Ayodhya 
is that when there is epigraphic proof, it is not backed by either 
literary or archaeological evidence, and when there is literary 
evidence, it is not backed by any other. This contradiction be- 
comes more apparent in the writings of the Chinese traveller 
Huen T'sang, who left China in 629 A.D. and returned in 645 
A.D. He visited Ayodhya (called 0-yu-To in his accoimts) when 
it was a part of the kingdom of Kannauj under the reign of King 
Harsha. He wrote about the prosperity of Ayodhya and stated 
that it was a famous Buddhist place. Conceding that it was 
possible for Ayodhya to have been a significant Buddhist centre 
during this period even though there is no archaeological 
evidence to buttress the argument, there is evidence to show that 
after Harsha's death, north India split up into small kingdoms 
and as Ayodhya's importance further declined that of Kannauj 
grew. As a result, the "period 650-1050 is practically blank for 
A yodhya, ' leaving immense space and scope over four centuries 
for the propagation of myths. 

The shroud of haze that surrounds the history of Ayodhya in 

73 



the early medieval period, started slowly lifting from the time 
when the Turks succeeded in penetrating the area in the eleventh 
century. Kannauj was invaded by Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni in 
1018-19, and that started a long period of invasions and retreats 
by the Turks. For nearly two centuries, the area under the 
kingdom of Kannauj remained in a state of fluidity — as the 
Turks invaded and after their retreat, the local Hindu rulers 
succeeded in regaining control of the kingdom, only to be 
humbled again by the next band of invaders. But, after the first 
attack on Kannauj, the next target was the provincial head- 
quarters of Bari and this was followed by an attack on Ayodhya. 
There are records that state that the first Turk attack on Ayodhya 
was led by Saiyad Salar Masud Ghazni, whose tomb is in Bah- 
raich. An account says: "After the rains, Masud led his army 
against Ajudhan. Although in those days that place and its 
vicinity was thickly populated, it was subdued without a strug- 
gle. Masud was delighted with the climate of Ajudhan and, as 
it was a good hunting ground, he remained there till the end of 
the following rains when he set off for Delhi" This account 
underscores two points: First, that Ayodhya had not been aban- 
doned, and second, it did not have a significant military presence 
to either ward off the invaders or to put up even a semblance of 
defence. 

The first attack on Ayodhya was probably followed by 
another attack, this time by one of the chieftains of Ahmad Niyal- 
tigin, the governor of Punjab then who represented the invaders 
from Ghazni. But after the Turks withdrew from the area, the 
Hindu kingdom re-grouped and ruled Ayodhya from Kannauj. 
However, the city of Kannauj was again invaded in 1086 and 
1090 and this was followed by a change of guard in Kannauj 
when the Rajput clan of Gahadavalas headed by Chandradeya 
came to power in the kingdom. Since Ayodhya does not show 
any signs of any powerful ruler — even a strong local chieftain 
— it can be presumed that Ayodhya also came under the control 
of the Rajputs. The leaders of the VHP have claimed that the 


74 



temple that was destroyed to build the Babri Masjid was con- 
structed during this period and cite the artefacts that surfaced 
after the demolition as evidence for their argument. However, 
for lack of official and academic comment on the nature of ar- 
tefacts, it is difficult to state whether the VHP claim is true or 
false. The new rulers had a period of relative tranquillity till 1190, 
when the Turks again became active in the area. Ayodhya was 
attacked in 1198 by Mohammed Ghori, accompanied by 
Makhdum Shah Juran Ghori. There is a British account which 
says that several Hindu places of worship were destroyed during 
this attack on Ayodhya.^ 

Stability Eludes Ayodhya 

However, political stability contmued to elude Ayodhya even 
after its conquest by Mohammed Ghori. In 1228, the third Mam- 
luk Sultan of Delhi, Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, appointed his son, 
Malik Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, as the governor of Awadh — 
thereby providing Ayodhya with a semblance of political 
stability. There was some initial resistance spearheaded by the 
Bhars, especially in South Awadh and Bundelkhand, but by 1247 
all forms of resistance to the Delhi Sultanate had been contained. 
Ayodhya witnessed, at this stage, rapid development and the 
town came to be used by the newly appointed governor of 
Awadh as a base for "northern expansion". The Turks, after 
having seized control in Awadh, were now eager to start ex- 
panding their area of control further. The town was fortified, 
garrisons were stationed, and towards the end of the thirteenth 
century, a wall that encircled the town was constructed. This 
followed the building of a fort m the town. William Finch, the 
earliest European traveller who visited Ayodhya between 1608- 
11, mentioned that the wall was built nearly 400 years before his 
’ rsit to Ayodhya. The town became more prosperous during the 
reign of the Tughlaqs, as administrative and defence personnel 
were stationed in the town and quarters were built to ac- 

75 



commodate the new officials. During the tenure of Mohammed- 
bin-Tughlaq, several members of the ruling elite of Delhi, chose 
to settle in Awadh and this was the time when the fort of Ayod- 
hya was completed. By the fourteenth century, Ayodhya had 
become a part of the Sharqi kingdom of Jaunpur, but the hold 
did not last for long, as Ayodhya was recovered by the Lodis. 

When the Lodi empire fell following the defeat of Ibrahim 
Lodi in the battle of Panipat, Babur, after gaining control of the 
Sultanate, embarked on a further expansionist tour and camped 
at a place on the banks of the river Ghagra, now called Saryu. 
This fact has been the source of the prevalent view that Babur 
visited Ayodhya in 1528 when he is supposed to have ordered 
the demolition of the temple and the construction of the mosque. 
But the Mughal control did not last for long as Humayun was 
defeated by Sher Shah Suri, an Afghan. Soon after, however, 
Humayun regained control of Delhi. But, Awadh and Jaunpur 
continued to be in the control of the Afghans and it was not till 
1559, when Akbar embarked on an expansionist drivt m the East, 
that the two kingdoms came under the control of Delhi. Akbar's 
tenure is particularly important for Ayodhya as this was the time 
when Sufism and the medieval Bhakti poets prospered. This was 
also the time when Ayodhya grew as a religious place ard Tul- 
sidas composed the Ram Charit Manas. There are also accounts 
of Guru Nanak having visited Ayodhya during this period, and 
the place from where he is supposed to have addressed a con- 
gregation is marked by a modem gurdwara (a Sikh place of 
worship). 

By the time Akbar died in 1605, Ayodhya had started becom- 
ing an important religious place for the Hindus. Even as different 
religious traditions grew in the town, it came to be an important 
pilgrimage for the Hindus and led to the compilation of the first 
of the Mahatmyas (guide-books for pilgrims, compiled since the 
16th century). At the time of Jehangir's reign, the identification 
of Ayodhya with Ram was complete and this is borne out by the 
accounts of Wilham Finch who wrote of the tales that he had 


76 



heard about Ram and his association with Ayodhya. However, 
he did not make any mention of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple 
that had been destroyed by Babur to build the mosque. Critics 
of the VHP have also argued that if Babur had indeed destroyed 
the temple, then Tulsidas, who wrote and lived in Ayodhya, 
would have surely mentioned the events that were purported to 
have happened barely 50 years before the poet started recounting 
the escapades of Ram. Aurangzeb seized the throne in 1658, his 
tenure being marked by the demolition of some temples in Ayod> 
hya. But after his death in the first decade of the eighteenth 
century, when frequent changes in the seat of command in Delhi 
diminished its political authority, anarchy prevailed in Awadh 
for nearly to two decades. 

Stability returned to Awadh only in the third decade of the 
18th century when the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah ap- 
pointed Mohammad Amin, a merchant from Khorasan, as the 
governor. A Shia of Persian stock, Mohammad Amin was given 
the titles of Sadat Khan Bahadur and Burhan-ul-Mulk, and he 
settled in Ayodhya and established the township of Faizabad. 
Two provinces of Awadh and Allahabad were carved out of the 
kingdom and the governor fought the Marathas and the forces 
of Nadir Shah. Sadat Khan also rebuilt the old fort of Ayodhya 
and called it Qila Mubarak and during his tenure several Hindu 
temples were built. This was also the time when Vaishnavism 
started making its presence felt in Ayodhya and several akharas 
or sects, mushroomed within the Ramanandi community. 
Clashes with the Shaivite priests also became common and in 
one of these, one of the new akharas, the Nirwani akhara seized 
control of the Hanuman Garhi temple — the biggest temple in 
Ayodhya at the tin^e — by driving out the Shaivite priests who 
had controlled the temple till that time. By the time Sadat Khan's 
tenure ended in 1739, Hindu revivalism was a significant force 
in Ayodhya, and this trend continued during the tenure of his 
successor, Safdar Jang, too. 

Safdar Jang moved his court from Ayodhya to Faizabad, 


77 



placed the old capital in the administrative control of one of his 
Hindu ministers. Naval Rai, who in turn was sympathetic to the 
rising akharas within the Ramanandi (followers of Ram) com- 
munity. While the Nawab pursued his expansionist desires, 
Ayodhya was the seat of fervent Hindu revivalist activity. Naval 
Rai also contributed to this by building several new buildings 
along the banks of the river Saryu. Vaishnavites became very 
active and several settlements of sadhus sprang up. A British 
account provides a list of more than 200 Hindu religious estab- 
lishments that came up during this period.^ At the death of 
Safdar Jang, the kingdom passed into the hands of Shuja-ud- 
Daulah who initially governed the kingdom from Lucknow, and 
later shifted back to Faizabad in the 1760s. The new Nawab 
teamed up with other local rulers to resist the British expan- 
sionist aims, and fought them first in the Battle of Buxar and 
again in a place called Jajmau, near Kanpur, when the British 
handed over Allahabad to Shah Alam, the Mughal emperor of 
the time, after seizing it from Shuja-ud-Daulah. A*Treaty with 
the British followed, and while the Delhi Sultanate was to retain 
Awadh, greater parts of the Benaras division was to be given to 
the British. This Treaty however, was not accepted by the Court 
of Directors of the East India Company which restored every- 
thing to the Sultanate except the dLstricts south of the Ganga. 
Shuja-ud-Daulah also had to give Rs 50 lakh to the British and 
the chastened Nawab returned to Faizabad where he built a fort 
and improved the conditions in the city. During Shuja-ud- 
Daulah's tenure, the akharas of the Ramanandi community came 
to acquire a powerful position. But political turbulence con- 
tinued in India and this affected Awadh also. The kingdom of 
Awadh became insecure following the Marathas seizing control 
of Allahabad, and this forced the Nawab to petition the British 
for help. Sir Robert Baker was given the charge of defending 
Awadh and RohUkhand in return for Rs 1 lakh a month. Finally 
the Marathas were driven out and Shuja-ud-Daulah agreed to 
pay the British an outright sum of Rs 50 lakh and a substantial 


78 



annual fee also. The British were clever in realising that the 
Nawab, of Shia stock, was keen to shake off the control of the 
Sunni rulers of Delhi, and the fact that after the Battle of Buvar, 
Shuja-ud’Daulah had come to terms with the superior pi.»silion 
of the British. In 1773, he conceded the Fort of Chunar and agreed 
to station a permanent Resident in Awadh, giving away control 
of his foreign policy. In this period the kingdom came to have 
great significance in the future plans of the British m India The 
British began to view it as the gateway to north India, and this 
became more apparent with the annexation of Awadh in 1856. 

By the time Asaf-ud-Daulah succeeded Shuja-ud-Daulah in 
1775, Awadh was virtually controlled by the British. He shifted 
his capital to Lucknow after falling ou' with his mother and 
grandmother. The two continued to stay at I'aizabad and suc- 
ceeded in retaining a significant portion ot the kingdom's wealth. 
By the time Asaf-ud-Daulah died in 1797, the British had estab- 
lished a direct line of communication with the Bahu Begum in 
Faizabad, who feared that aftei her death the Nawabs would not 
look after the mausoleum and the estate. She signed a Treaty 
with the Bntish shortly before her deach in 1814 that gave 
revenue and administrative control of Ayodhya to the British 
While the British control of Ayodhya coincided with the growth 
of militant Vaishna>'ite sects in Ayodhya and the dissemination 
of the story of the demolition of the lanmasthan temple to build 
the mosque, in Lucknow, the British were openly inlertering in 
the running of the durbar. Thii> is best underscored by the par- 
ticipative role the British played in the battle tor succession after 
the death of Asaf-ud-Daulah in 1797. 1 he Nawab ivas sncceeded 
by his son, Wazir Ali, but the British sided with the rival 
claimant, Saadat A i Khan, the former Nawab's brother, because 
Wazir Ali exhibited traces of dissent while Sadat Ali presented 
a docile facade. The British publicly maintained that the new 
Mawab was not the legitimate son of Asaf-ud-Daulah, but there 
are no doubts about the real motivation of the British. Another 
Treaty was signed and another fort handed over to the British, 

79 



even as the Nawabs of Awadh continued their total dependence 
on the imperial rulers. However^ Saadat Ali Khan had a good 
tenure in economic terms and when he died in 1814, Rs 14 crore 
was in the royal treasury. While the next Nawab, who died in 
1827, spent Rs four crore out of this, the next in line, Nasir-ud- 
Din, was a spendthrift, and a person whom the British described 
as a debauch and a person who aped the British and their ways. 
By the time he died in 1837, only Rs 70 lakh was left in the royal 
treasury. The East India Company once again installed a Nawab 
of their choice and finally Nasir-ud-Din's grandson, Wajid Ali 
Shah, was the last Nawab of Awadh. He also was a lavish 
spender and accounts say that he spent Rs 20 lakh more than his 
income every year. 

The story of the Awadh court from the time Shuja-ud-Daulah 
became Nawab presents two important aspects of the growth of 
Ayodhya. First, the total lack of interest on the part of the rulers 
and, secondly, keen participation of the British in the events 
unfolding in Ayodhya. This becomes all the more evident if one 
keeps the anti>British riots in Bareilly in the backdrop and fears 
of another anti-British platform building up in the north. 

We have seen that by the time the Hindus and Muslims had 
a series of violent clashes in Ayodhya in the period 1853-55, 
popular belief had grown that Babur had destroyed a temple to 
build the mosque, and this had been bolstered by British ac- 
counts that paid scant attention in verif)dng the stories before 
writing. By this time the British were also openly interfering in 
the durbar politics of Awadh and dictating policies to the 
Nawabs. Awadh had by then become a central theme of the East 
India Company's north Indian policy. Yet when the clashes broke 
out the "king's men" watched from the ringside, but "had orders 
not to act". 

However, every confrontation since the first clash has centred 
around the story of Babur having visited Ayodhya in April 1528 
and built the mosque — either after demolishing an existing 
temple, or by building it over the remains of an earlier temple, 


80 



or even building it at a site where there was no previous struc- 
ture. Whatever the merits of the various contentions, the moot 
point that emerges from various primary and secondary ac- 
counts on the actions of Babur and his life is that his image was 
not anything like that of Aurangzeb. Known to be "a fine soldier, 
an able administrator and a prolific writer, he was not a religious 
fanatic in any way".^ The Babur-Nama, an autobiographical 
account, reveals his G 9 d-fearing nature and his tolerance of 
religions other than Islam. There are instances in the book when 
Babur praises Hindu architecture and sculpture that was as- 
sociated with the temples, though there are also instances of his 
disapproval of nude idols. There is also no mention of "any 
incident when he or his men ever destroyed any Hindu 
temple".^’ 

In fact, in the version of his memoirs that is available now, 
there is also no record of Babur ever having visited Ayodhya. 
The Babur-Nama is blank from April 2 to September 8, 1528 and 
the pages appear to have been lost through the ages. In one of 
the last entries before the missing record of a period of slightly 
more than five months, Babur recorded that on March 28, 1528 
he and his forces were stationed north of Awadh at a junction 
of two rivers. One of the two rivers is the river Ghagra — also 
known as Sarj u when nears Ayodhya — and at the point of 
its confluence with another river is considered to be barely a few 
miles from Ayodhya. It has been assumed by the pioponenls of 
the Babur myth that he visited Ayodhya — since by then it was 
an important place — in these five months of which there is no 
record, ordered the demolition of the temple and asked his min- 
ister Mir Baaqi to construct a mosque in its place. With formal 
records of Babur's life in these five months missing, the history 
of this period is largely based on popular stories and incorrect 
interpretations by British writers. Contemporary accounts as 
well as local Hindus and Muslims contend that Babur built the 
i- .osque after demolishing the temple on the advice of a Muslim 
faqir. However, as we have seen earlier, this myth grew and 


81 



spread only in the nineteenth century as till then the mosque 
was not referred to as the Babri Masjid. The perpetuation of the 
belief was aided by British scholars and other administrators as 
they propagated the story as factual history. Among the first of 
these efforts was by John Leyden who translated Babur's 
memoirs and while stating that accounts of the period between 
April and September 1528, were missing, suggested that Babur 
visited Ayodhya on March 28. It naturally followed that since 
after his arrival in Ayodhya, records were missing, there must 
be some event which either Babur or one of his successors, 
through whose hands the Babur-Nama passed, wished to blot 
out from the records. The demolition theory seemed to be the 
most plausible one at this stage. Leyden was followed by Mon- 
togomery Martin who talked about the black pillars that were 
obviously un-Islamic in character and stated that they must have 
been taken from a Hindu temple. The trend of giving credence 
to the popular belief continued, and in 1854 another translation 
of the Babur-Nama, done by William Erskine, also contended 
that the Mughal emperor had visited Ayodhya on March 28, 
1528. So far the British writers had written that Babur visited 
Ayodhya on this day, and that the records of the next five months 
were missing. But in 1860, after Hindus and Muslims had clashed 
in Ayodhya and a compromise had been worked out between 
the warring groups, P. Carnegey, who wrote a gazetteer, linked 
facts with popular beliefs and wrote that Babur had actually 
destroyed the temple. A similar view was expressed by W.C. 
Benet a few years later. By this time British archaeologists, Cun- 
ningham and Fuhrer, had recorded their findings and, as we 
have seen earlier, they too mentioned the local belief. By the end 
of the nineteenth century, the mosque had emerged as the bone 
of contention between Hindus and Muslims in Ayodhya with 
British writers and archaeologists aiding the spread of the belief 
that Babur had visited Ayodhya in 1528. The British writers were 
convinced that Babur visited Ayodhya and had been involved 
in some mysterious activity there." 


82 



This fallacy was somewhat corrected in 1921, when Mrs An- 
nette Susannah Beveridge translated the Babur-Nama and con- 
tended that Babur had been stationed at a considerable distance 
north of Ayodhya on March 28, 1958. However, by then the 
popular story had been accepted as factual history and in a 
footnote Mrs Beveridge wrote that Babur would surely have 
been impressed by the "dignity and sanctity of the ancient Hindu 
shrine" and would have at least partially demolished it to build 
the mosque. The logic through which Mrs Beveridge evolved her 
conclusions was the commonly held British viewpoint that Hin- 
dus and Muslims were naturally antagonistic, and that the 
Mughal emperor like an "obedient follower of Muhammed was 
in intolerance of another faith and thus he would regard the 
substitution of the temple by a mosque as dutiful and worthy." 
Several historians of eminence in India have asserted that "Mrs 
Beveridge produces no historical evidence" to support her con- 
clusion and that the inference is "deduced from a generalised 
presumption about the nature and inevitable behaviour of a 
person professing a particular faith".^’ 

It has also been recently argued that Babur did not visit Ayod- 
hya at all.^ This conclusion is arrived at by an analysis of his 
memoirs and the assertion that in 1528, Babur "was more in- 
volved in the task of consolidating his kingdom than in serving 
the interests of his religion". But, regardless of the fact whether 
Babur ever visited Ayodhya or not, the point is that the mosque 
that was demolished on December 6, 1992 came to be regarded 
as a mosque built by his minister, Mir Baqi, either on the orders 
of the emperor or on his own initiative to dedicate it to his king. 
Those arguing in favour of identif 3 dng the mosque with Babur 
have cited the three Persian inscriptions on the mosque — two 
were on the outer wall and the other in its inner precincts. While 
the inscriptions on the outer wall were barely legible, the one 
.> .side, dated 1529, was translated by Mrs Beveridge and reads: 
"By the order of the Emperor Babur whose justice is an edifice 
reaching upto the very heights of helaven; 


83 



The good hearted Mir Baqi built this alighting place of angels; 

May his goodness last forever!" 

However, there has also been a view that Babur's name was 
associated with the mosque in the early decades of the nineteenth 
century by the Muslims of Ayodhyi, to counter the claim of the 
Hindus on the shrine. An analysis of the style of calligraphy on 
the inscriptions have been found to bear similarities with the 
style prevalent in the nineteenth century, and not of the earlier 
period. There is an argument that mentions the "strong pos- 
sibility of the stone inscriptions being put up at a later stage to 
strengthen the claim that Babur had built the mosque".*^ The 
direction that this studied view takes also answers one of the 
earliest arguments of the leaders of the Hindutva idea, that the 
structure in question was not a mosque because of the absence 
of minarets. It has been said that the mosque in Ayodhya was 
similar to another mosque in nearby Jaunpur that belonged to 
the Sharqi period. Ayodhya had also come under the control of 
the Sharqi sultans, albeit briefly, before the advent of the 
Mughals, and there are suggestions that the mosque that came 
to be identified as the Babri Masjid was actually built during this 
period. But that once the Hindus started threatening it, Muslims 
resorted to the invocation of Babur's name to ensure that the 
mosque remained in their control. Whatever the story of the 
Babri Masjid, there is literally little left now except the debris of 
the shrine. And, of course, the hastily erected makeshift struc- 
ture... 


Beginning of an End 

Following the riots of 1934 and the subsequent decision of the 
local administraticm to fine the local Hindus and utilise the 
money for the repair of the Babri Masjid, relations between the 
Hindus and Muslims in Ayodhya started rapidly deteriorating 
to the point of no return. The escalating tensions between the 
two communities had greatly to do with the conflict between the 

84 



Hindus and Muslims all over India. But in Ayodhya, the thorny 
issue of the Babri Masjid remained the proverbial eye of the 
storm. By the 1940s, Vaishnavism had come to have complete 
sway over the Shaivites in Ayodhya. Several akharas were also 
prospering Bnandally as a large number of mahants also 
managed, with the earnings brom the temples, to buy land in 
nearby areas. Hindu militancy was now an accepted fact in the 
town, and there were reports that there had been attempts to 
prevent the Muslims from offering namaz at the Babri Meisjid. 
But, in spite of threats, Muslims continued to live in Ayodhya 
and offer namaz in the Babri Masjid. However, the situation 
started deteriorating swiftly after the Partition of the subcon- 
tinent. Communal frenzy was at its peak all over the country 
and in January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a 
fanatic Hindu. The assassin, Nathuram Godse, had previously 
been a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). 

That was the period when militant Hindu priests started 
making preparations to seize control of the Babri Masjid once 
again. Again, attempts to prevent Muslims from offering prayers 
at the mosque were made, and if they did come the crowd would 
be stoned from rooftops of the houses belonging to Hindus. The 
police, stationed at the site took scant notice of these attacks. The 
Babri Masjid was then being managed by the Uttar Pradesh 
Central Sunni Board of Waqfs and reports of the impeding threat 
to the Masjid reached its headquarters. The Board deputed one 
of its inspectors, Mohammed Ibrahim, to visit Ayodhya and 
assess the situation in the town. His report, dated December 10, 
1948 states: "Hindus do not read the Ramayan during the day. 
During the night if any Muslim was to stay in the mosque, 
Hindus and others would trouble them. Any Muslim going 
towards the mosque is accosted and called names. I went to the 
mosque and realised that many of the rumours are true. There 
is danger to the mosque from the Hindus. It appears that an 
application be lodged with the Deputy Commissioner Faizabad, 
requesting those coming for namaz should not be troubled and 


85 



since the masjid is Waqf property, it should be protected."^ 

This visit had followed that of a leading Hindu priest. Baba 
Sukhdas, who in his speeches in the town had repeatedly asked 
the bairagis and other Hindus in a jordar (forceful) tone to seize 
control of the Babri Masjid. But the Waqf inspector's report and 
the subsequent petition to the local administration to provide 
protection to the Muslims going to the Babri Masjid had no effect 
as Mohammed Ibrahim was back in Ayodhya in less than two 
weeks on December 23. His second report indicated the growing 
militancy in the ranks of the Hindu priests. Recitations of the 
Ramayan had started, and the graveyard where more than 70 
Muslims had been buried after the clash of 1855, was being dug 
up. The report said that while the graveyard was being dug up, 
policemen were present at the site. But only four people were 
arreste 1 and they were all released shortly on bail. The mazar of 
a Sufi saint in the v'icinity was also dug up and a flag was hoisted 
at the place by a bairagi. The manager of the mosque was beaten 
up, as were two Muslims from outside Ayodhya. The mosque 
by this time was locked up most of the time and the keys were 
with the Muslims. On Friday afternoons, the mosque would be 
opened for two or three hours, cleaned and, after namaz, it would 
be locked again. The report stated that when the Muslims left "a 
lot of noise is created and from the surrounding houses, shoes 
and stones are hurled. The Muslims, out of fear, do not utter a 
word. I have spent the night in Ayodhya and the bairagis are 
sure to forcibly take possession of the masjid." 

But even this report did not stir the administration. Matters 
continued like this for close to a year. The graveyard was 
levelled, Friday namaz at the Babri Masjid became a fearful mat- 
ter for the Muslims, and threats of the imminent takeover of the 
mosque were increasing. By November 1949, the crisis was close 
to a flashpoint. Harijan, the magazine started by Mahatma 
Gandhi, reported the plight of the Muslims of Ayodhya in its 
July issue, 1950. The report, written by K.G. Mahruwala, is a 
graphic account of the hazards of being a Muslim in Ayodhya 


86 



in the aftermath of India attaining Independence. It is also a 
comprehensive record of the pro-Hindu character of the local 
administration. The report states: "In the middle of this 
graveyard was a foundation known among the Muslims as 
Kunati Masjid. A platform was being raised on its site. The 
Muslims were full of fear. Under Section 1^.5 of the CrPC, they 
made a petition to the City Magistrate, but no action was taken." 

At this point of time, a crucial role was played by Akshay 
Brahmachari, a secretary of the Faizabad District Congress Com- 
mittee. After having seen the events in front of the Babri Masjid, 
he met the District Magistrate, K.K. Nayar, to seek his interven- 
tion. The report in the Harijan continues: "This led to a curious 
result. Two days later, three men entered his house 
(Brahmachari's) and made an attack on him. From what they 
said, it was found that they knew what had transpired between 
him and the D.M. Ultimately, Section 144 of the CrPC was 
promulgated, but it was used only to prevent the Muslims from 
going to the place. The Hindus could go freely." 

Meanwhile, the mood of the Hindus in Ayodhya was slowly 
turning into a frenzy. A continuous recitation of the Ramayan 
was being carried out outside the Babri Ma.sjid. The Harijan 
report continues: "This was followed by some days of feasting 
and distril ation of food in front of the Babri Masjid. Propaganda 
was carried on for this purpose through loudspeakers installed 
in the tongas and motorcars proclaiming that the birthplace of 
Ram was being regained and people should visit it for darshan. 
People went in hundreds. Speeches were delivered telling people 
that the Babri Masjid was to be converted into a Ram Mandir. 
Government officials were attending the recitations. Some more 
old tombs and holy places were demolished and idols of Hindu 
gods were installed in their place. The people thought that all 
this was being done with the sanction of the government and 
r.-iust therefore be in order." 

This phase of frenzied action in Ayodhya finally came to an 
end on the night of December 22-23, 1949 when a group of Hindu 


87 



devotees, after breaking open the gate segregating the mosque 
bx>m the Ram Chabutra, entered the Babri Masjid and installed 
the idols of Ram and his associates. At that time there was a 
police picket consisting of 15 policemen positioned there since 
the area was tinder Section 144 of the CrPC, but there was no 
attempt to stop the mob from desecrating the mosque. Constable 
Mata Prasad, who arrived at the spot the next morning, sub- 
mitted a report to the police station at Ayodhya. Subsequently, 
sub-inspector Ram Dubey lodged Mata Prasad's version as an 
FIR. It stated: "When I reached the Janmabhoomi around 8 
o'clock in the morning, I came to know that a group of 50-60 
persons had entered the Babri Masjid after breaking the com- 
pound gate or by jumping across the wall with a stair and es- 
tablished therein the idol of Shri Bhagwan and painted Sita Ram 
etc. on the outer and inner walls with geru (a local water colour 
normally used to paint flower pots and for wall writings). Hans 
Raj, who was on duty, asked them to defer but they did not. 
These persons had already entered the mosque before the avail- 
able PAC guards could be commanded. Officials of the district 
administration came and involved themselves in making neces- 
sary arrangements. Afterwards, a crowd of five to six thousand 
gathered outside, chanting bhajans and raising slogans, tried to 
enter the mosque but were deterred and nothing untoward hap- 
pened thereon because of proper arrangements." 

What followed was the open complicity between the mosque 
breakers and the local administration. District Magistrate K.K. 
Nayar, whose role was already suspected as evident from the 
Harijan account, dispatched a brief message to the Chief 
Secretary of Uttar Pradesh on the morning of December 23, 1949. 
It read: "A few Hindus entered the Babri Masjid at night when 
the Masjid was deserted and installed a deity there. D.M. and 
S.P. and force at spot. Situation under control." The Chief 
Secretary and the Inspector General of UP Police issued instruc- 
tions to immediately clear the idols from the mosque, but Nayar 
pleaded his inability because of the "suffering which it will entail 


88 



to many innocent lives/ The Imam of the mosque, Abdul 
Ghafoor, was asked to leave the area, and Nayar ordered the 
mosque to be locked up. But before this he allowed four priests 
and one cook to enter the mosque and perform arti in the morn- 
ings and the evenings beneath the central dome of the mosque. 
Other Hindu devotees were allowed to have a darshan of the 
idols from outside the iron grill. Nayar also appointed Priya Dutt 
Sharma, chairman of the Faizabad Municipal Board, as the 
'receiver' of the shrine to oversee its affairs, which included the 
appointment of a priest to conduct prayers. Muslims were shock- 
ed at the turn of events. A delegation went over to Delhi to meet 
the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who expressed an- 
guish, but the local administration was steadtast in its position 
that the idols could not be removed. The mood in Ayodhya was 
clearly boisterous. The Harijan report continues: "Exciting 
speeches followed. Gandhiji, Congress governments, and 
Jawaharlal were maligned. The speakers said that there was not 
a temple left in Pakistan and so in Ayodhya too they should 
allow no masjid or burial ground to remain. Even some old 
Congressmen participated in this inciting propaganda. The ar- 
gument was: 'A people's government had been established in 
Bharat.' This meant that what the majority liked must happen. 
Since 85 per cent of the population of Ayodhya did not like the 
mosque there, no one could remove the idol from that place." 

What followed thereafter was farcical. An order under Section 
145 of the CrPC was passed which permitted the worship of the 
idol but Muslims were disallowed from offering prayers in the 
mosque till the dispute was settled in court. A property that was 
legally in the control of the Waqf Board of the Sunni Muslims 
had been taken away which it now had to prove in a court of 
law. The Harijan commented: "The burden of a lingering litiga- 
tion has been laid on them (the Muslims)." The protracted legal 
imbroglio is still not over even after more than four decades and 
the strain is clearly visible on the faces of the likes of Hashim 
Ansari who have virtually spent a lifetime trying to prove that 


89 



the ownership of what used to be the Babri Masjid was vested 
with the Muslims. 

The conversion of the Babri Masjid into a Ram temple was 
not the only instance of discrimination against the Muslims of 
Ayodhya and Faizabad. A restaurant, named Star Hotel and 
located on the main square of Faizabad, was owned by a Muslim 
resident of the town. He had been an old nationalist Muslim and 
was boycotted by the Muslim League for his views. During 
Partition when the League was active in the campaign asking 
Muslims to migrate to Pakistan, this man expressed views con- 
trary to the League's. However, one day the District Magistrate 
was informed that the restaurant was being used to store arms. 
A raid was conducted but nothing was found, yet four people 
found in the premises were arrested. The proprietor of the res- 
taurant was asked to vacate the premises immediately and he 
complied with the order in the presence of the District 
Magistrate. The building was handed over to a Hindu trader 
who renamed the restaurant Gomati Hotel, fhe District 
Magistrate and other local officials were present at the inaugural 
function of the new hotel. Meanwhile, the old owner had to move 
court and it was much later that the restaurant was restored to 
him. 

The Harijan also reported another serious incident, this time 
in Ayodhya: "A Muslim woman had died. Her relations com- 
menced to dig the ground for her burial in a nearby graveyard. 
But some Hindus would not let them do so. The relations went 
to the City Magistrate (who had been appointed Receiver of the 
Babri Masjid). It was the duty of the magistrate to have helped 
them. Instead, he said, since the Hindus objected to the burial 
on that groimd, they had better go to another. They complied 
and went elsewhere; but another batch of Flindus appeared on 
the spot and put their opposition to the burial taking place there. 
The City Magistrate, thereupon, asked them to go to a third one. 
In this way, they had to try one burial ground after another. 
There was opposition even in the third graveyard. In the 


90 



meanwhile, the corpse had started decomposing. Finally after an 
interval of 22 hours, obsequies were performed, but only some- 
where outside the limits of Ayodhya. Similar treatment was 
meted out in respect of four other corpses. An intimidatory cam- 
paign has been started to prevent Muslims from burying their 
corpses inside Ayodhya." The role of Nayar was recognised by 
the spearheads of the campaign to convert the Babri Masjid into 
a Ram temple: His portrait used to adorn the walls of the Babri 
Masjid and he became a revered figure in all popular stories that 
the votaries of the Hindutva idea propagated to gain more sup- 
porters. Nayar also, on his part, soon quit service and joined 
politics. However, his role from early 1948 when the Hindus of 
Ayodhya stepped up the campaign to seize control of the Babri 
Masjid, to the forcible installation of the idol and the following 
decision to allow* its worship but preventing the entry of Muslims 
in the vicinity of the mosque, laid the seed of a protracted Hindu- 
Muslim conflict in Independent India. 

The irony is that while the political ancestors of the contem- 
porary advocates of the Hindutva idea were active and planning 
every move in detail, the government remained in a state of 
paralysis. Govind Ballabh Pant, the Congress Chief Minister of 
Uttar Pradesh, during the course of a debate on the situation in 
Ayodhya, in the Legislative Assembly blandly stated: "If any- 
thing that was improper did take place, we tried to remedy it. 
We have regret fc’;* those who were put into distress on its ac- 
count." Neither the Chief Minister, nor the Home Minister of the 
state, Lai Bahadur Shastri who later became Prime Minister, 
categorically condemned, the installation of the idol. Even Nehru, 
in spite of assuring the delegation of Muslims from Faizabad 
that he would looV. into the matter, failed to act though he 
professed his belief in secularism. Nehru was concerned greatly 
at the events in Ayodhya but could do precious little. This was 
primarily because Nehru was under sharp attack from within 
1' ,s Cabinet over his perceived softness towards Pakistan. Nehru 
probably felt that a pro-Muslim act in regard to Ayodhya would 


91 



be seen by his critics as another instance of his failure to 
safeguard interests of Hindus. The collective somnambulism on 
the part of the Congress leaders seems to have set the pattern of 
governmental behaviour in years to come... 




CHAPTER 4 


Rajkand 




If someone were to strike at the root of this 
large tree here, it woul'd bleed, but live. If 
someone were to strike at its stem, it zvould 
bleed, but live. Pervaded by the living Self 
that tree stands firm, drinking in its 
nourishment and rejoicing. But if life leav' 
one of its branches, that branch withers 
leaves a second, that bt anch wither 
leaves a third, that branch withers. \fit leaves 
the whole trei% die whole tree loithers ... ' 






iijsnaa 


0) n January 11, 1 993 the moo'* 
leaders managing tl le affa’' , ^ong the functionaries and 
headquarters in Ne skt ^ ^ j. . ^ watiya Janata Party (BJP) 

evening, several leadr « nf »h ^ ^ ^ upbeat. The previous 

dentL.K. Advani,!) adbeenrelM* h 
examining 

filed against P ,e leaders nf T mo T 

sentati>/es of the foi^gn mS including repre- 

foreign med.a, assembled on the lawns of the 

95 



ministerial bungalow which functions as the part}^ s central office 
in the heart of Lutyens' Delhi. News conferences have always 
been of great importance to the BJP which has perfected the art 
of media management. Such occasions also provide an oppor- 
tunity for the BJP leaders to gauge the mood of different sections 
of India as Indian journalists have adopted clear positions on the 
central theme of the BJP campaign, in the past few years. The 
media too in India has been divided between the section that is 
supportive of the policies of the BJP and the other which is not 
in agreement. Sharp exchange of words and diametrically op- 
posite views come to the fore, as journalists argue with BJP 
leaders. While several senior BJP leaders hate such occasions and 
clearly show their dislike about being asked such leading ques- 
tions, some feel that such grilling by the press, helps to hone 
their skills and arguments. They reason with their agitated col- 
leagues that news conferences are a mini-India coloured by di- 
fferent viewpoints, and that there is no reasoi\to avoid such 
conii*%Txtations. 

But on>tiuary 11, 1993 there was no such confrontation as 
Advani was at iri<; articulate best and his opening account left 
many wondering if the<o was any purpose to be served by asking 
further questions. There appeared to be a definite finality in 
every sentence that the BJP leader ottered. Showing every bit of 
the aggressive image that he had adopted few years ago, Advani 
dwelt at length on how his party had con« to have a stranglehold 
on Indian polity. He explained that even though the agitation 
for the Ram temple was launched by the VHP in 1984, his party 
had stepped into the campaign much later in 1989. Advani 
elaborated that his party did not view the issue as merely the 
question of constructing a temple, in place of the mosque. But, 
for the BJP, the matter of contention was a much larger issue: 
The character of the country. Advani stated that his party had 
not only entered the campaign for the construction of the Ram 
temple, but had also actively canvassed for an alternate set of 
political values. These values, the BJP leader explained, included 


96 



the position of the minorities in the country and their response 
to the aspirations of the Hindu majority in India. 

Advani categorically stated that in the course of the develop- 
ment centring around the Ayodhya dispute, the new notions 
thrown up by the BJP had come to the fore and now dominated 
the political theatre of India. The BJP was no longer hesitant 
about its real belief and Advani made it clear that those who did 
not agree with the BJP's argiunents had little option but to either 
adopt the same values or explore extra-territorial options. Behind 
each of Advani's assertions was the firm belief that in the years 
to come, his party and the Hindutva idea that it believed in, 
would play a greater role in shaping the political character of 
India. There was also no feeling of remorse over the events in 
Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 — a sentiment that Advani had 
aired even from his prison cell.’ He also made it clear that the 
BJP's motives were not just restricted to the question of seizing 
political power and governing the country. Rather, that the BJP 
would continue to have a dominant position in the Indian politi- 
cal spectrum and dictate the agenda for the country. On that day, 
there were few, even among journalists critical of the BJP, who 
disputed Advani's assertion. It was obvious that the BJP's suc- 
cess could no longer be viewed as the proverbial flash in the pan. 

Advani also talked in detail about Ram and the place the 
mythical hero would have in the India of BJP's vision. There was 
not even a hint of hesitation on Advani's part when he said that 
Ram had to be accepted by every person wishing to live in India. 
Opposition to the god-king — meaning people who articulated 
views contrary to the BJP's demand about what should be done , 
in Ayodhya no'v — would mean being kept out of the national 
mainstream. Throughout Advani's opening remarks, it was clear 
that he believed in the cultural supremacy of the majority Hindus 
and this cultural tradition would provide the basis for the Indian 
political system when the BJP came to have a greater political 
say in the country. The Hindu sense cf tolerance was missing 
from all of Advani's assertions. Rather, his basic framework was 


97 



hegemonic and it was clear that, the BJP cared little for the views 
of people from the minority communities. In fact, it was also 
evident that even those Hindus who did not agree with the BJP's 
perspective would have to alter their thinking if they wished to 
play a significant role in India's future. 

On that day, Advani's facade of a suave tolerant politician 
with whom persons from different political persuasions could 
argue, was gone. He represented every bit a bigoted leader who 
would not hesitate to grind to dust those who did not agree with 
the views of his party. What happened to the Babri Masjid could 
soon happen to every institution and individual that came in the 
way of the BJP's rise to a greater position of political pre- 
eminence. Every sentence that Advani uttered that day contained 
a threat directed towards the critics of the Hindutva idea, and 
the spectre for them ahead was chilling. Ram was equated with 
nationalism and the attitude of each person towards the god-king 
and the Ayodhya dispute, would be the determiipng factor for 
the future of the individual. Though he did not use the same 
words, Advani meant what one of his party colleagues, B.P. 
Singhal, a retired senior officer of the Indian Police Service (he 
joined the BJP after retirement) said some weeks later: "Enough 
is enough. It is now time that the country learns the truth."^ 

It has taken the advocates of the Hindutva idea sixty-eight years 
to come to a stage where they can brazenly say that they have a 
monopoly on the historical, social and cultural interpretation of 
India. Truth, according to Singhal, Advani and others wedded to 
the Hindutva idea, is only one — and that is the version being 
propagated by them. A careful perusal of the writings and 
speeches of the leaders of the VHP, BJP and the parent body, the 
RSS, makes it clear that they have a vision of a strictly structured 
society where dissent of any kind would not be tolerated the mo- 
ment it went beyond the parametres defined by them. True, there 
will be different streams within the framework of the Hindutva 
idea, but an3^hing outside it will be anathema. And the central 
issue in this is P am, and the views on the Ayodhya agitation. 


98 



In fact. Ram has been the central theme of the advocates of 
the Hindutva idea from the time of its inception. When the 
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was formed in Nagpur, 
central India, in 1925, its founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a 
medical doctor by profession, chose the day of Vijay Dashami 
— celebrated by Hindus as the day when Ram triumphed over 
Ravan — to announce the formation of the RSS. The organisation, 
which initially comprised men drawn from a Brahmin locality 
of the town, organised an akhara once a week and political classes 
for the recruits twice a week, did not have a name in its formative 
years. One of its first public actions was to manage the huge 
crowds thronging a temple in Ramtek, a nearby village, on the 
occasion of Ram Navami, celebrated by Hindus as the day when 
Ram was bom. Even today, rituals commemorating various 
stages in Ram's life have the pride of place in the RSS's schedule 
of religious festiv 2 ils. 

An account says: "Dasara is celebrated with more pomp and 
on a larger scale than any other festival. All shakhas in a 
geographic division of the RSS combine to perform the rituals. 
Prior to the formal function, the RSS band will march through 
the city followed by uniformed participants. The public is invited 
to the ceremony. A well known person from the area, often with 
no RSC affiliation, presides ove r the function. The swayamsevaks 
en masse will offer pranam to this person. He and a pracharak 
begin the festi vities by worshipping a set of weapons tradition- 
ally associated with Shivaji. One offers puja by appl 3 dng sindur 
(vermilion) and flowers to the weapons. The RSS bands play 
martial music, and the assembled swayamsezniks sing patriotic 
songs. En masse, the swayamsemks demonstrate their skiUs with 
the lathi, sworu, and various exercises".^ The Dussehra celebra- 
tions are of particular importance in Nagpur even now, for th« 
sarsanghchalak — the chief executive of the RSS — delivers * 
public speech that serves as the socio-political guide to even 
member of the sangh parivar throughout the year. 


99 



The political backdrop in India during the 1920s has to be borne 
in mind while analysing the reasons leading to the formation of 
the RSS and its eventual rise in the last decade as a propelling 
force behind the Hindutva idea. The third decade of the twen- 
tieth century in India was marked by a worsening of relationship 
between the Hindus and the Muslims. The withdrawal of the 
non-cooperation movement in 1922 by Mahatma Gandhi and the 
protracted imbroglio over the Khilafat movement gave an im- 
petus to Hindu revivalism. As tension between the Hindus and 
Muslims increased, the dormant Hindu Mahasabha, which was 
formed in 1915 and had spearheaded the anti-cow slaughter 
agitation, was given a fresh lease of life. The Khilafat movement 
gave the Hindu revivalist a chance to contend that the Muslims 
in India had pan-Islamic aims and this had to be countered by 
the Hindus. 

Several new organisations were floated in India during the 
early 1920s and this process culminated in a meeting of national 
Hindu leaders at Varanasi in August 1923. Pandit Medan Mohan 
Malviya, whose rivalry with Pandit Motilal Nehru within the 
Congress was well established by this time, emerged as a leading 
leader of the Hindu revivalists in the United Provinces and stated 
that the prime reason for convening the Varanasi session was to 
prepare a strategy to "arrest the deterioration and decline of the 
Hindus, and to effect the improvement of the Hindus as a com- 
munity."^ Malviya was clear that if "Hindus made themselves 
strong, the rowdy section among the Mohammedans could not 
safely rob and dishonour Hindus."^ The Varanasi session con- 
cluded with the call on Hindus to close their ranks, allow lower- 
caste Hindus entry into temples, and to adopt the kshatriya model 
of integrating militancy, vigour, and assertiveness in their daily 
life. But there were problems for the revivalists as, for the or- 
thodox sections of Hindu theologians, the call for the dilution of 
the caste order was difficult to accept. The problem of disunity 
in Hindu society has continued to haunt all proponents of Hindu 
revivalism and, as the trend suggests, is unlikely to relent in the 


100 



near future. Nonetheless, the new forces slowly started gaining 
ascendancy and in time, religious leaders and revivalists came 
to a compromise, which in practical terms meant that both view- 
points could be articulated without any change in status quo. 

In Nagpur also, the Hindu revivalists were looking for an 
opportunity to start an alternate political path towards self- 
realisation other than the one being pursued by Mahatma 
Gandhi. This came in 1923, when the local administration refused 
permission to Hindus to take out a procession on October 30 to 
honour a local Hindu deity. A call to disobey the order was 
issued and the response was satisfactory for the leaders of the 
procession, who promptly decided to found the Nagpur Hindu 
Sabha. Hedge war, though active in the programmes of the Con- 
gress, was drawn to the new organisation and its leaders as he 
was beginning to get restive with the methods of Mahatma 
Gandhi. Riots broke out in Nagpur in 1924 and the Nagpur 
Hindu Sabha took the lead in giving a call to economically 
boycott the Muslims. This was also the time that Hedgewar was 
greatly influenced by a handwritten manuscript of the book 
Hindutva, written by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a militant 
Hindu nationalist, in 1922 while he was incarcerated in Ratnagiri 
jail in central India. 

Sava»'kar's book, and the views expounded in it, was to be- 
come the central theme of Hedgewar's emerging ideological 
framework. In ^ds thesis, Savarkar put forth the view that the 
Hindus were a iiation and that they were the indigenous people 
of the subcontinent. The obvious regional, linguistic, social and 
sectorial differences did not prevent them from forming a single 
national group. Savarkar's thesis was in contradiction to the 
commonly acctpied viewpoint — even by the British — of con- 
sidering India as a geographical entity. The Hindu militant con- 
tended that India was a national entity in which the Hindus 
formed the core, while the others were settlers who had forced 
their way into India and had little place in the nation unless they 
accepted the corner-stone of nationhood. If Hedgewar had so far 


101 



lacked an intellectual basis for a reason to part wtjjn with thi 
Congress, Savarkar's book provided him with one. By the time 
the riots in Nagpur ended in 1924, Hedgew^ was certain that 
the Hindu# in India had to be given a new Impetus, and this had 
to be done by psyehojp^^al means. He took the call of the 
Varanasi session to heart, and ^wards the kshatriya 

model. Finally on the day of Dussehra, J92§ he founded the RSS 
whose first programmes were ph 3 reical training eeision# and 
political education classes. In to come, these two aspects, 
besides that of managing the organisation, wou]4 become the 
distinctive feature of the R3S. Indeed, the three — physical train- 
ing, intellectual coaching and organisatfona! management still 
remain the main concern of the RSS leadership, and th§y haVP 
different cells managing these affairs. 

One important reason for HadSFiy?*" steering clear of the exist- 
ing Hindu organisations in Nagpur and estaWJahiftg ^ 
was because he thought that the basic problem with Upper-caste 
Hindus was that they themselves were not williri^: to physically 
limit the Muslims in times of confrofltatUfft.. Jh?v would instead 
look towards the lower castes. Hedgewar wanted the Uppei-):^J^ 
Hindus also to inculcate physical skills and since this was not in- 
grained in the philosophy of the existing organisallpp^/ he opted to 
pursue the RSS. From the beginning, Hedgewar was sfoadfdsi ifl 
his attempt to train a core group of young volunteers in the tradi- 
tional martial arts. A uniform ^ white shirt, khaki shorts and black 
cap — was given to the volunteers. It was the sgme uniform as used 
for the volunteer force trained by Hedgewar during ^ 
session of the Congress in 1920. In the formative years of the in§g, 
the first real chance of exhibiting its commitment towards protect- 
ing Hindus from Muslims came in (bf Nagpur riots of 1 927. Volun- 
teers of the RSS were divided into sixteen unit# ajfi4 they were at 
the forefront in the riots. By this time, the swayamsemks had hpf ft 
trained in the use of traditional arms like the lathi, sword, javelin 
and the dagger — weapons that could be used against street-smart 
adversaries, but not against the might of the British empire. The 

102 



choice of weapons and the fact that Hedgewar aimed at attracting 
youngsters from High-caste Hindu families as recruits, makes it 
clear that the RSS was fashioned to counter the growing militancy 
among the supporters of the Muslim League, and not to play a 
meaningful role in the fight against the Imperial power. The role 
played by the RSS in the Nagpur riots was recognised not just lo- 
cally, but also among Hindu revivalists in the rest of the country. 
When the leaders of the Hindu Mcihasabha scheduled their nation- 
al session at Bombay in December 1927, Hedgewar was asked to 
send RSS members dressed in the organisation's uniform. This in- 
teraction apart, the RSS did not adopt a firm political and activist 
posture, leading some of H^dg^war's associates to the organisa- 
tion. The December 1929 session of the Congress in Lahore gave 
the call for Puma Swaraj (total independence) and in early 1930, 
Mahatma Gandhi embarked on his Dandi March. This was fol- 
lowed by leaders of the national movement giving the call for the 
Civil Disobedience Movement that year. Except for H^gewar 
personally participating in the movement and being incarcerated 
briefly in 1931, the RSS stayed aloof from the Independence move- 
ment. 

However, the RSS continued to grow and started expanding fo 
places beyond Maharashtra. At the same time, the Congress also 
lost some of its activists to the RSS. Besides, Congress leaders wor- 
ried that the growing proximity of its members with the Hindu 
Mahasabha, which was emerging as a counter to the Muslim 
League, was threatening the pivotal position of the Congress in the 
country. The Congress leadership asked one of its senior members, 
JamnalalBaja), to seek clarifications from Hedgewar regarding the 
character of the RSS, but even this interaction failed to allay the 
fears of the Congress leaders. In June 1 934, it resolved formally that 
no member of the Congress could participate or join either the 
Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League or the RSS.** However, this 
did not hinder the growth of the RSS and, instead, helped it to ce- 
ment its ties with the Hindu Mahasabha for the time being. Con- 
tacts had been established between these two organisations from 


103 



the early years of the 1930s. In 1931, G.D. Savarkar (alias Baburao), 
the elder brother of the still jailed V.D. Savarkar, who had estab- 
lished the Tarun Hindu Sabha — meant to act like a youth wing of 
the Hindu Mahasabha — merged his organisation with the RSS 
and, in the same year, Bhai Parmanand, an Arya Samaj leader of 
Punjab, invited Hedgewar to attend the All India Young Men's 
Hindu Association meeting at Karachi. 

Hedgewar was quick to seize the opportunity and launched 
the RSS in Sind, and subsequently in Punjab and the United 
Provinces. Baburao Savarkar also utilised his network of contacts 
among Hindu Mahasabha activists in the United Provinces and 
this helped greatly because of the fiery image of the Savarkar 
family. By this time, the Hindu Mahasabha had already adopted 
a resolution at its Delhi session in 1932, in which the RSS was 
commended for its activities. Even though there were some dif- 
ferences with the RSS primarily over Hedgewar's insistence in 
steering clear of conventional politics, the Hindu Mahasabha 
came to regard the RSS as a kind of front organisation, among 
the youth. The RSS secured the ultimate stamp of respectability 
among the Hindu revivalists in 1937, when V.D. Savarkar, after 
his release from jail, attended RSS shakhas and addressed gather- 
ings. Later, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, another stalwart of the 
Hindu Mahasabha, praised the RSS and even likened it to a 
"silver lining in the cloudy sky of India." ^ 

By this time the structure of the RSS had been evolved by 
Hedgewar with care. The RSS volunteers had been given a slogan 
in March 1928 and this intensified "their commitment through 
a romantic aura that was reminiscent of revolutionary-terrorist 
traditions."** Interestingly, Hedgewar's speech at the first oath 
taking ceremony "once again used the symbolism of Ram, for 
its leitmotif was the famous passage in Tulsidas: 'Life itself can 
be sacrificed, but plighted word cannot be betrayed.' After the 
volunteers had been given a slogan, the need arose to give an 
institutional character to the RSS. Senior RSS leaders met at 
Nagpur in November 1929 and agreed that the basic philosophy 

104 



of the organisation's institutional structure would be the concept 
of "follow a single leader."^® A supreme director called the sar- 
sanghchaiak would dictate the policies of the organisation and 
Hedgewar was nominated for the post. It is clear that right from 
its inception, the RSS abhorred internal democracy and this, in 
later years, was to be extended to the various front organisations 
of the RSS, including its political wing — the Jana Sangh first, 
and then the BJP — where internal democracy exists only on 
paper and only rarely in practice. (There have been divisions in 
the BJP of late, but this is largely owing to the party making a 
transition from a closely knit cadre-based organisation to that of 
a mass organisation). In time, Hedgewar evolved a pyramidal 
structure — followed by the RSS till date — which resembles the 
institutional character of all cadre-based parties where subser- 
vience to the immediate leader is the order of the day. At the 
bottom of the ladder is the shakha, which consists of a designated 
number of swayamsevaks who meet every morning for physical 
exercises and exchange of ideas on contemporary developments. 
(This activity is suspended whenever a ban has been enforced 
on the organisation). The shakha has leaders of smaller sub- 
groups, called gatanayak, and organisers, called karyavah. The 
shakha, which exists at the village or at the colony level, reports 
to the higher committee at the level of the mandal or the neigh- 
bourhood which, in turn, is controlled by the city unit. District, 
division, state, and zone are the other levels of the organisation's 
units and the last unit is answerable to the central office-bearers 
and other officials. The headquarters of the RSS is in Nagpur 
and there the sarsanghchalak is aided by the general secretary, 
who is in charge of the day-to-day management of the program- 
mes. There is also an office secretary who functions as the main 
administrative pivot, but seldom has any say in policy formula- 
tion. A crucial role is performed by the five pramukhs in charge 
of the important activities of the RSS. The prachar pramukh is 
icsponsible for recruiting and posting the pracharaks at the level 
of the cities to manage the affairs there. The sharirik pramukh 


105 



arranges physical training at the shakhas, and is in charge of 
organising periodic camps. The bauddhik pramukh pla 3 rs the cru> 
cial role of deciding which books should be read by swayam- 
sevaks, which songs be sung at the shakha — in short, he functions 
as the in-house censor and educational adviser. The nidhi 
pramukh has the vital role of collecting and managing the 
organisation's funds, while the vyavastha pramukh is the coor- 
dinator of all activities. 

Evolution of Strategy 

Even though the RSS leaders profited greatly by associating with 
the Hindu Mahasabha, they were also quick to foresee the limita- 
tions of such an alliance. The Hindu Mahasabha, because of its 
avowed anti-Muslim stance, had several impediments in its 
emergence as a significant all-India political force. The RSS 
leaders were clear from the beginning that its role was not 
primarily political. Rather, the view of the RSS leaders was that 
the organisation would act as a philosophical guide for various 
political forces by its activities like character-building and intel- 
lectual development. The first real difference between the Hindu 
Mahasabha and the RSS came in 1938-39 when the Hindu 
Mahasabha launched the civil disobedience movement against 
the Nizam of Hyderabad and Hedgewar decided that the RSS 
— which had activists even in that area — would not participate 
in the movement, though some swayamsevaks participated in 
their personal capacity. By this time, Savarkar had been elevated 
as president of the Hindu Mahasabha and he visualised a politi- 
cal future for the organisation, while Hedgewar did not do so 
for the RSS. This difference of opinion naturally pulled the two 
organisations in opposite directions. 

The RSS lost some of its activists in thepursuit of its policy of not 
entering politics, the most important of them being Nathuram 
Godse, who had joined the RSS in 1930 and had been one of the 
trusted allies of Hedgewar. Godse, who in 1948 assassinated 

IQS 



Mahatma Gandhi, left the organisation for two reasons: First, he 
became impatient with Hedgewar's insistence in not giving a 
political character to the RSS; and second, because of his great ad- 
miration for Savarkar. But even though Godse left the RSS, he con- 
tinued to be intellectually committed to the RSS view. (Even now 
the extent of RSS involvement in the assassination is speculative 
for senior RSS leaders are still secretive about the episode). But at 
the time the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS formally parted ways, 
there were little differences over policy matters. The disagreement 
was on the tactical path. While the Mahasabha felt that it was best 
suited to be projected as the vehicle to deliver a Hindu Rashtra to 
India, the RSS leadership had doubts and had other plans. 

Hedgewar died after a protracted illness in June 1940 and a 
fortnight later it was announced that the deceased sarsanghchalak 
had nominated Golwalkar as the next chief of the RSS. This 
announcement was fiercely contested by many senior RSS 
leaders since Golwalkar had been a relatively new entrant'in the 
RSS fraternity and others felt that the nomination had been con- 
trived by Golwalkar and Ghatate, one of his close associates — 
the two of them had spent the maximum time with Hedgewar 
before his death. There were other names in the fray also. Some 
had expected Savarkar to be nominated for the post, while others 
felt that Appaji Joshi, an ally of Hedgewar from the formative 
years of the RSS would be elevated. One of the reasons why 
there was resentment at Golwalkar's nomination, was his inex- 
perience in the RSS since he had only recently been promoted 
in the hierarchy, and the fact that he had no revolutionary or 
political background. His family background also went against 
him as, unlike Hedgewar, he came from a relatively prosperous 
family. He studied science, remained apolitical and during his 
late adolescence period turned towards religion and 
spiritualism. Golwalkar completed his masters in science from 
'lenaras Hindu University and took up a faculty position when 
he came in contact with some RSS activists. In 1931, Hedgewar 
met him during one of his visits to the university and there is 


107 



an account of his being "immediately attracted to the ascetic 
twenty-five-year old teacher."" This meeting came at a time 
when Golwalkar's parents wanted him to return to Nagpur and 
take charge of the household. 

In Nagpur, Golwalkar took a course in law and later started 
practising in the local courts. He was also drawn into the RSS 
by Hedgewar when he made Golwalkar the secretary of the main 
shakha in Nagpur. But, leadership qualities did not come natural- 
ly to Golwalkar. He soon went Mf to Bengal after abandoning 
his legal practice in 1936 to spend some time with Swami Ak- 
handanand, a religious preacher who had been a colleague of 
Swami Vivekananda. He returned a year after the death of his 
guru and Hedgewar once again persuaded Golwalkar to take an 
active interest in the RSS by arguing with him that he could 
continue with his aim of spreading religion through the RSS. 
Golwalkar joined the RSS as a whole-time volunteer and that 
was the start of his phenomenal growth in the organisation in 
the next three years. He was given charge of the All India Officers 
Training Camp for three years from 1937, and his proximity to 
Hedgewar led to his appointment as the general secretary in 
1939. In the meanwhile, Golwalkar wrote the first ever ideologi- 
cal treatise of the RSS: 'We, or Our Nationhood Defined.' By the 
time Hedgewar died in 1940, the stage had been set for Gol- 
walkar to take charge of the RSS and give it a new thrust, not- 
withstanding the resistance to his leadership. However, the rigid 
character of the RSS came in handy for Golwalkar, and all op- 
position to him slowly subsided as the RSS forged ahead in the 
1940s. 

In the initial years under Golwalkar, the RSS lowered its 
profile, officially severed its links with the Hindu Mahasabha 
though personal contacts remained, suspended its military ap- 
paratus, stayed aloof from anti-British agitations, and during 
World War II, made no effort to enlist Hindus into the British 
army. Golwalkar, during this period concentrated more on 
evolving the ideology of the organisation and disseminating it 


108 



within the ranks of the swayamsevaks. Under Golwalkar, the basic 
ideological foundations, honed by Savarkar in his book Hindutm 
and later practised by Hedgewar, were given a sharper edge. 
One of the major theoretical departures made by Golwalkar from 
the position of Savarkar was to make a distinction between 'ter- 
ritorial nationalism' and 'cultural nationalism'. The major dif- 
ference between Savarkar's book and Golwalkar's writings is 
that while the former laid greater emphasis on territorial 
nationalism, the latter was clear that cultural nationalism centred 
around Hindu consciousness, was of greater importance. Gol- 
walkar and all successive writers from the RSS school of intel- 
lectual training have identified two types of enemy forces that 
could come in the way of Hindu hegemony: Muslims and Chris- 
tians who have a different 'cultural' background; and the 'west- 
ernised elite' who has been fed on the 'modern myths' of 
socialism, capitalism and other 'isms'. (This explains the 
virulence of contemporary RSS leaders towards people with 
Marxist or other radical leanings.) Golwalkar argued his case 
against Muslims thus :"They look to some foreign lands as their 
holy places. They call themselves 'Sheikhs' and 'Syeds'. Sheikhs 
and Syeds are certain clans in Arabia. How then did these people 
come to think that they are their descendants? That is because 
they have cut off all their ancestral national moorings of this land 
and mentally merged themselves with the aggressors. They still 
think that they have come here only to conquer and establish 
their kingdoms." 

Earlier in the same book, Golwalkar is more assertive: "The 
non-Hindu people in I lindustan must either adopt the Hindu 
culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu 
religion, and must entertain no idea but the glorification of the 
Hindu nation i.e., they must not only give up their attitude of 
intolerance and ingratitude towards this land and its age-old 
traditions, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love 
and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be for- 
eigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the 


109 



Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less 
any preferential treatment, not even citizen's rights." (On 
January 11, 1993 the BJP leader L.K. Advani had either browsed 
through Golwalkar's book, or remembered it clearly from his 
years at various RSS training camps, to be able to produce it 
virtually verbatim in a modem context!) Golwalkar also dwelt 
on the major international political development of that period 
— that of Hitler's decision to purge Germany of Jews. In open 
adulation of the Nazi programme^ the RSS leader wrote: "Ger- 
man national pride has now become the topic of the day. To 
keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shock- 
ed the world by purging the country of the Semitic races — the 
Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. 
Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races 
and cultures, having differences going to the roots, to be assimi- 
lated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan 
to learn and profit by." The present-day advocates of Hindutva 
have never repudiated the contentions of Golwalkar. On the 
contrary, his Bunch of Thoughts, a collection of his essays includ- 
ing 'We, or Our Nationhood Defined', has the pride of place in 
the collections of every votary of the Hindutva idea. 

While Golwalkar perfected the ideological basis of the RSS in 
the 1940s which would stay unchallenged for several decaaes to 
come, the organisation scrupulously stayed away from all anti- 
British activity. The Civil Disobedience movement of 1940-41, 
the Quit India struggle, the Azad Hind Fauj, the uprisings 
against the IN A trials and the Bombay Naval Mutiny — all meant 
little to the RSS. Yet the RSS grew phenomenally during this 
period. The number of shakhas doubled between 1940 and 1942 
and there is a British estimate of 1944 which states that 76,000 
men participated in the shakhas every day. That ideological train- 
ing was one of the most important activities of the RSS can be 
gauged from the large number (10,000) of swayamsevaks who 
participated in the Officers Training Camps in 1945. By this time, 
close to half the number of swayamsevaks were from the United 


110 



Provinces and the rest were mainly drawn from modern 
Maharashtra and Punjab. However, like before, the leadership 
continued to be predominantly Maharashtrian and Brahmin. Be- 
tween 1945 and 1948 the membership of the RSS grew manifold 
in parts of the subcontinent now in Pakistan, and this was a 
direct fallout of the growing communalisation of Indian society. 
However, the 'crowning glory', as even now several RSS leaders 
say in private conversations, came in August 1946 in Calcutta 
when a devastating communal riot broke out in the city follow- 
ing Mohammed Ali Jinnah's call for Direct Action on August 16. 

The Surge Forward 

The RSS registered a tremendous growth in the turbulent 1940s, 
mainly at the expense of the Congress as activists of the party 
left it to join the RSS as a result of the unchecked rise of the 
Muslim League. For the British government, the RSS did not 
pose any threat as it did not participate in any programmes of 
the nationalists. An official Home Ministry assessment of the RSS 
opined that "it would be difficult to a.gue that the RSS con- 
stitutes an immediate menace to law and order." '•‘’The Bombay 
Home Department also had nothing negative to say about the 
RSS when it prepared the report on the August 1942 violent 
incidents during the Quit India movement. The report said that 
the RSS had "scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in 
particular has refrained from taking part in disturbances that 
broke out in August 1942 By the time Wi'rld W.-tr II came to 
an end, the core membership of the RSS had shifted from 
Maharashtra to 'he Hindi-speaking provinces and the bulk of 
the people who joined the organisation came from the trading 
community — a class which has since continued to remain tradi- 
tional supporters of the Hindutva idea. These people, 
predominantly religion-oriented, were drawn to the RSS because 
of the consistent use of religiou.s symbolism that sought to "jus- 
tify social solidarity". By the time India was parliticned in 1947, 

111 



the RSS had emerged as a significant force in Punjab, on both 
sides of the newly created border, and was prepared for the 
crucial role it performed during the riots which followed. This 
would earn them great goodwill and be a long term asset for the 
image of the RSS and all its future front organisations. Such 
success, however, did not come the way of the RSS in Bengal, 
which was also partitioned. An explanation offered is that in 
Bengal the RSS "neither attracted support from prominent 
Hindu leaders, nor devoted much effort to organising Hindus."*^ 

The RSS, after its role during the Calcutta riots of 1946, sensed 
that its time had come the moment Lord Mountbatten, the last 
British Viceroy, declared on June 3, 1947, that the colonial rulers 
had decided to partition the subcontinent on communal lines, 
and that the imperial rule would come to an end on August 15 
that year. The announcement, made in the belief that it would 
not have serious law and order repercussions, belied the hopes 
of both the Viceroy and the Congress leaders. Migrations of 
Muslims began from the Indian side of the border, and there was 
a similar pattern in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, which 
now fell on the Pakistani side of the border. There were migra- 
tions to and from East Pakistan also. Communal violence became 
common in the months after Mountbatten's announcement, and 
even as people migrated with their families after either hastily 
selling off their property or just abandoning it, neither the British 
government nor the nascent Indian state in the weeks after In- 
dependence could intervene in any productive manner. The 
population transfer was far from smooth and communal violence 
peaked in September 1947. Thousands of Hindu and Sikh 
families started fleeing from Pakistan and the same was the case 
of Muslims in India. There was open animosity between the two 
communities, and those Muslims who chose to stay back in India 
were subject to humiliations and social trials. Similar was the 
case of the Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. Among the Hindus in 
India, there was a fear psychosis against Muslims and this was 


112 



both aided and used by the RSS to give further fillip to its growth. 

The RSS had finally managed to get a chance to address its 
target audience: Hindus who were already in an agitated state 
of mind and nurtured hatred against the Muslims. With the 
social and political condition anarchic in India, the RSS "earned 
enormous goodwill for itself by assisting Hindu refugees in their 
flight to India and by providing aid in their readjustment to life 
in a new country."’® The RSS organised squads from the Indian 
side of the border to bring batches of refugees from the other 
side. In the troubled states of Punjab and Sindh, there was open 
collusion between Congress leaders and the RSS as Congress 
activists sought the help of the RSS in protecting the Hmdus. 
The martial training of the swayamsevaks came in handy as they 
were assigned to guard the homes of Hindus from Muslim at- 
tackers. Weapons were collected and hand grenades manufac- 
tured. The RSS activists were also at the forefront of the 
communal riots and instrumental in retaliatory attacks on Mus- 
lims who had opted to stay back in India. The RSS activists 
preached in the camps that the Muslims who had stayed back 
had to be driven to Pakistan just as the Hindu and Sikh refugees 
were made to flee from Pakistan. This was contrary to the picas 
of the Congress leaders who were opposed to a theocratic India, 
and instead had pledged their commitment to a secular country 
where the state w<'uld not be partisan towards any particular 
religion. 

The new government could not ignore the pivotal posit m of 
the RSS. It was managing four mapr relief camps in DeJi i, '.'. here 
the majority of rt-iugees were camped, iu Sc'ptcinbor, when t oni- 
munal violence w'a its peak in India, the RSS was requested 
for help to maintain law and order in the capital by the regional 
security officers. The regional military commander of the capital 
met Golwalkar personally to seek his help. Mahatma Gandhi 
id - ' visited a shakka in which he pleaded with Golwalkar that 
maintenance of law and order was the job of the government, 
and it should be left free to handle it in the manner it deemed 



fit. But the RSS chief stated that all RSS action was purely defen- 
sive and that he could not vouch for the actions of each swayarn- 
sevak if they were reported to have participated in offensive 
action. The government also realised the growing clout of the 
RSS and the Home Minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, requested the 
intervention of Golwalkar in persuading the Maharaja of Kash- 
mir to agree to accede to India. Golwalkar met the Maharaja and 
when the Indian troops were allowed to enter the state, the 
Indian army armed the activists of the RSS as also the members 
of the National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdullah.*’ 

By the end of 1947, the RSS leadership realised the growth it 
had registered in the months after the decision to partition the 
sub-continent. The leadership decided to make a show of its 
strength and scheduled a rally in Delhi on December 10, 1947. 
The rally was a success and it was attended by "several Hindu 
princes, prominent businessmen, and an array of leaders from 
various Hindu organisations."^” The rally underscored the 
stranglehold that the RSS had come to acquire on a sizable sec- 
tion of the Hindus and the class of people who turned out for 
the rally was indicative of the main support base of the RSS and 
its frontal organisations in the years to come. 

The year ended with several senior political leaders express- 
ing fears of the RSS emerging as an independent political force. 
The apprehensions of these leaders, mainly from the Congress, 
were based on several factors: From a strength of around one 
million at the time when World War II ended, the number of 
swayamsevaks had swelled to more than six million by the end of 
1947; moreover, the thousands of refugees from Punjab and 
Sindh after staying in the relief camps were starting to settle in 
several towns and cities in north India, carrying with them tales 
of valour and bravery of the RSS activists. In the places where 
the refugees were beginning to settle down, they were estab- 
lishing the RSS and spreading hatred against the Muslims. How- 
ever, Golwalkar continued to resist pressure from within the 
ranks of swayamsevaks who wanted the RSS playing an active 


114 



role in politics, as he had a greater plan. This was finally unfolded 
in 1948 when, at a speech in Lucknow on January 6, Vallabhbhai 
Patel talked in glowing terms of the RSS activists and suggested 
to his party men that they should try to win over the RSS "with 
love". This was preceded by a meeting of state home ministers, 
convened by Patel in November 1947, where after taking stock 
of the communal situation in the country, it was decided that 
the activities of the RSS should not be curbed even though there 
were open allegations against the organisation saying that it was 
fomenting riots. There was also a mounting demand from within 
the Congress, to take action against the RSS. However, the insis- 
tence of Golwalkar that the RSS should steer clear of partisan 
politics was a part of his old belief that led to the parting of ways 
between the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS in the early years 
of the 1940s. It was also indicative of his view that the Congress 
Wcis the best vehicle for the ideas of the RSS and this became 
clear in subsequent months. 

However, the plans of Golwalkar in ensuring a greater social 
role for the RSS, received a serious setback in January 1948, The 
month started with the outbreak of communal riots in Delhi. 
Horrified at the intensity, Mahatma Gandhi started a fast in the 
capital on January 12 and ended it six days later only after Hindu 
and Sikh leaders, including the regional leader of the RSS, agreed 
to his demand to end violence But, the hatred that the RSS had 
preached since its inception through books, speeches and in 
private gatherings soon backfired on the organisation as 
Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a former member of the RSS, assas- 
sinated Mahatma Gandhi on Friday, January 30, 1948 in Delhi 
shortly after his evening prayers. His motive was explained by 
Gopal Godse, his brother who had been aware of the plan: "We 
were simply trying to rid the nation of someone who had done 
and was doing great harm to it. He had consistently insulted the 
Iiindu nation and had weakened it by his doctrine of 'ahimsa'. 
On his many fa$ts, he always attached all sort of pro-Muslim 
conditions. He never did anything about Muslim fanatics. We 


115 



wanted to show Indians that there were Indians who would not 
suffer humiliation that there were still men left among the Hin- 
dus of the country".^’ 

Golwalkar promptly sent telegrams to Jawaharlal Nehru and 
Sardar Patel, expressing shock at the assassination. But that did 
not assuage Indians who loved Gandhi. It was common 
knowledge that Godse had been indoctrinated by the RSS to 
believe that Hindus were superior to the Muslims, and that the 
Congress was instrumental in the 'appeasement' of Muslims. 
There were also few takers that the Hindu Mahasabha — Godse 
was its member — and the RSS had actually severed links with 
each other and had not jointly planned the assassination. Attacks 
followed on RSS workers and offices in several parts of the 
country and in Maharashtra, the anger against the assassination 
of Mahatma Gandhi was directed against Brahmins who were 
singled out for attacks Godse was a Brahmin as were the majority 
of the RSS leadership. The Government of India in spite of having 
people, like Patel, sympathetic to the RSS could not help the RSS 
and on February 4, 1948, the organisation was banned, all its 
activities were declared illegal and leaders of the RSS and the 
Hindu Mahasabha were placed under arrest. Golwalkar, before 
his arrest, asked his colleagues to suspend all activity. 
Meanwhile, tne government arrested an estimated 20,000 
swayamsevaks from various parts of the country. Offices were 
raided, records seized, funds frozen, and property and other 
equipment were impounded. Golwalkar, w'ho a few weeks ago 
had been close to fulfilling his dream of dictating the policies of 
the Congress and the government from the back seat, was busy 
chalking out new strategies in his prison cell. 

For the next few’ months, the main aim of the RSS was in 
getting the ban on its activities lifted, and prove that it was not 
involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The setback 
was obvious to all. The RSS which had been able to pitchfork 
itself into a pivotal position in Indian society by the end of 1947, 
suddenly found itself flung on the periphery. It would have to 


116 



wait for another four decades before the RSS regained centre 
stage. But to return to the pivotal position, it had to dramatically 
alter its strategy. But, before that, it had to flounder for more 
than 30 years before its new approach started taking shape in 
the early 1980s. 

Regaining Lost Ground 

By 1980, the political scenario in India had undergone a sea 
change since the early years after Independence. The nation had 
just seen the end of the first non-Congress government formed 
after Indira Gandhi lifted internal Emergency, and announced 
elections in early 1977. But, the conglomeration of various non- 
Congress parties could not hold together for long and internal 
differences led to the parting of ways. The Janata Party, eis the 
new party was called after the merger of the anti-Congress par- 
ties, split, and Indira Gandhi assured support to a minority fac- 
tion and later after Charan Singh assumed office as Prime 
Minister, withdrew the support and precipitated general elec- 
tions. In the ensuing polls, Indira Gandhi was voted into office 
again. The leaders of the splinter groups of the Janata Party were 
bewildeied over Iheir next move. The elections were won by 
Indira Gandhi and her main slogan was "vote for those who can 
run a government" an obvious strategy to highlight the bickering 
within the Janata Party and its impact on the smooth functioning 
of the government. In the 1980 elections, it was clear that anti- 
Congressism was still a dominant factor in Indian politics. The 
Janata Party had been voted to power in 1977 because the elec- 
torate was dissatisfied with the authoritarian methods witnessed 
during Emergency, and in 1980, it returned Indira Gandhi be- 
cause they wanted a stable government. They also felt that 
neither of the two Janata groups would be able to provide politi- 
cal stability to the country. Both in 1977 and 1980, the electoral 
results had followed the pattern of earlier elections, where the 
Congress stood out as a single pole in the bipolar political 

117 



spectrum and other parties formed the other pole. The Congress 
stood to gain if the other parties failed to strike out alliances and 
electoral adjustments, and suffered if such an alliance came 
about. While this had been first visible in 1967, the grand alliance 
of 1977 had humiliated Indira Gandhi to such an extent, that 
even she was unable to retain her parliamentary seat. 

The seventies had also been a decade of transition for the RSS. 
Golwalkar had died in 1973 and he was succeeded by Balasaheb 
Deoras who advocated a more active role for the RSS, and the 
sxoayamsevaks than his predecessor. The RSS had faced the second 
crackdown in its history during Emergency when the organisa- 
tion was banned by Indira Gandhi for the active role played by 
its members in the anti-Congress agitation spearheaded by Jai 
Prakash Narain. After Emergency, when the move to forge a 
grand alliance against Indira Gandhi was initiated by JP, the RSS 
gave the nod to the Jana Sangh leaders to merge the party with 
the others to form the Janata Party. However, the Jinks of the 
former Jana Sangh leaders with the RSS became a contentious 
issue and one of the factors that led to the split in the Janata 
Party was the question of 'dual membership' of the former Jana 
Sangh leaders. Critics demanded that the Jana Sangh leaders 
resign from the RSS, but they did not comply. However, the RSS 
did not precipitate the split in the Janata Party and it even al- 
lowed the former Jana Sangh members to stay away from the 
newly formed samanyavaya samitis or coordination committees. 
These committees had been formed by Deoras after the Emer- 
gency was lifted to ensure better coordination between the front 
organisations of the RSS, and with the parent body. The RSS was 
content that with the fact that two of its former swayamsevaks 
were holding the crucial portfolios of External Affairs and Infor- 
mation and Broadcasting, in the Janata Party government 
another was holding a junior charge in the Finance Ministry and 
the fact that former swayamsevaks were also playing a decisive 
role in shaping the policies of the Janata Party governments in 
several states. At that time there was little that the RSS could 


118 



complain about because this was the closest it had come to 
power. It mattered little to the RSS leadership that its role was 
not officially recognised. 

But, the situation changed dramatically after the return of 
Indira Gandhi to power and the resulting disanay in the Janata 
Party. The RSS, after embarking on a major expansion 
programme among the tribals and the lower caste Hindus, chose 
to steer clear of political controversy throughout the debate 
within the Janata Party, on the question of dual membership. 
The collapse of the Janata Party government also reinforced the 
belief of several RSS leaders that the organisation should not put 
all their eggs in one basket. Distance was thus maintained from 
the activities of the former Jana Sangh group, and this continued 
till the time these leaders did not return to the ideology of the 
RSS. 

In 1980, for the former members of the Jana Sangh it was a 
matter of political survival. Indira Gandhi had meanwhile em- 
barked on a process of consolidating her gains in the last general 
elections and the various constituents of the Janata Party were 
trying to pick threads anew from the debris of the collapsed 
experiment. The Jana Sangh group was also doing the same. This 
group of the Janata Party had been singled out for criticism 
because of the links with the RSS, and their refusal to sever ties 
with the RSS. It meant that the group could not afford to break 
their symbiotic relationship with the RSS, even after the collapse 
of the Janata experiment, as this would give fillip to the critics 
of the 'dual membership' argument. But the group was also in 
no position to abandon the principles and policie-s of Jai Prakash 
Narain who had tiled by then as it could be accused of being an 
opportunistic group that merged in the janata Party merely for 
coming to power. There was a clear dichotomy between the Jana 
Sangh legacy and the new association with the politics of JP. The 
RSS leadership watched this dilemma from the sidelines, and 
did not play an active role in the Jana Sangh group's attempt to 
evolve its future political strategy. Finally, the Jana Sangh group 


119 



decided to have a mix of both worlds a bit of the RSS ideology 
and several components of the JP legacy. The strategy of the Jana 
Sangh group unfolded in Delhi on April 6, 1980 with the forma- 
tion of a new political party the Bharatiya Janata Party. There 
was a clear attempt to broad-base itself from the Jana Sangh of 
earlier years, and several politicians who had been members of 
other constituents of the Janata Party joined the new party. The 
plan of the new party, as it unfolded in the capital city, had no 
indications of a grand design that would pitchfork the party into 
a pivotal position in a decade. In 1980, the formation of the BJP 
was at best a defensive act of a group that was tr 3 dng to fight 
political marginalisation and attract the attention of its parent 
body. But at the same time, the group was keen to project itself 
as a formation that had learnt lessons from the Janata experience. 
A fresh outlook was being explored after realising that there was 
little use of clinging to the beliefs of the Jana Sangh. 

In the soul of the new party, the leaders of the BJU? gave equal 
space to the two legacies that it was trying to incorporate within 
itself: Jai Prakash Narain and Jana Sangh. Thus at its first meet- 
ing, the party leaders noted with regret that JP's "dream was 
shattered" by the collapse of the Janata Party. They also attacked 
sharply the critics of the former Jana Sangh members of the 
united party for their links with the RSS. The resolution noted 
that "when the Janata Party was formed in 1977, no one objected 
to the ties of the former Jana Sangh members with the RSS," and 
added that this criticism was levelled only "when the leadership 
struggle intensified" within the party. The question of the new 
party's relationship with the RSS was spelt out categorically: 
"The party reiterates that it welcomes in its fold all members of 
any organisation that is engaged in the social and cultural uplift- 
ment of the nation and its people... and till the time these people 
believe in the policies of the BJP, their membership with such 
organisations shall not be considered violative of any party dis- 
cipline".22 

The new party listed five points as its main objectives and 

120 



they were indicative of the two legacies that the BJP was trying 
to cope with. The five points were: Nationalism and national 
integration; commitment to democracy; Gandhian socialism; 
value-based politics; and genuine secularism. Of the five points, 
the last was a clear continuation of the RSS approach on the issue 
of communalism. The first point listed was an attempt to find a 
meeting point between the RSS approach on the question of 
nationalism, and JP's approach on the issue. The other three 
points that were detailed in the resolution indicated that the BJP 
was striving hard to shed the sectarian image of the Jana Sangh 
and don the look of a liberal centrist party. On the question of 
nationalism and national integration, the nevyly formed part\' 
was playing with words when it declared that "India was one 
nation, such a nation where people from different religions, 
ideologies, languages, interests met...and there was no reason 
why the people could not coexist in peace and harmony" 

But, there were contradictions when the BJP talked about 
"genuine secularism" and detailed the perspective of the Con- 
gress on the issue as being instrumental in aiding the growth of 
communalism in the country. It said that "secularism did not 
only mean that there should be no intolerance among people 
from dii'ierent religions".^ The BJP argued on the contrary that 
genuine secularism meant that there should be "integration" 
between various religions and people professing them. How- 
ever, nowhere in the resolution adopted in the first meeting did 
the BJP elaborate on the manner in which its beliefs could be 
implemented. However, the real departure f'^om the value sys- 
tem of the Jana Sangh was the assertion that the new party was 
committed to Gandhian Socialism. This was a significant devia- 
tion from the concept of Integral Humanism as propounded by 
Deendayal Upadhyay, one of Jana Sangh's former presidents, 
found dead in mysterious circumstances in the late sixties while 
travelling in a train. Similar was the case regarding the BJP's 
principled conrimitment to democracy and value-based politics, 
both concepts popularised by JP during the agitation against the 


121 



authoritarian policies of Indira Gandhi. 

It is clear that the spearheads of the new party were trying to 
emerge as the 'true successor' of the Janata Party and not allow 
other constituents of the Janata Party to claim that they were the 
political heirs of JP and his policies. The BJP was tr 5 dng to project 
itself as the principal anti-Congress political force in India. In an 
attempt to broad-base itself from the Jana Sangh of earlier years, 
the word Janata was introduced in the name, several non-Jana 
Sangh politicians were nominated to the working committee the 
most significant of these appointments was that of former Con- 
gress(O) leader Sikandar Bakht, a Muslim. He functioned as a 
general secretary under Atal Behari Vajpayee, elected as the 
president of the new party. The attempt of the spearheads of the 
BJP to strike a balance between the twin legacies of the party 
was symbolically underscored in the choice of the flag of the 
new party. It was neither pure saffron like that of the Jana Sangh, 
nor completely green like that of the Janata Party. Ijiistead, there 
was a mix of the two colours and the lamp symbol of the Jana 
Sangh was replaced by the lotus, a S 3 mr»bol that would have great 
power in years to come. It was evident that the BJP was trying 
to keep its connections with the RSS and use the swayamsevaks 
for building its cadre, even while trying to don a more liberal 
image. The RSS activists were being sought to be kept within the 
party fold, by the emphatic declaration on the question of dual 
membership. The liberal image was being projected by conscious 
articulation of acceptable 'secular' concepts like Gandhian 
Socialism and value-based politics. But, in the initial years of the 
party existence, this balancing act between two contrary value 
systems would come as an impediment to the party's growth. 
The BJP kept falling between the proverbial 'two stools,' and this 
became visible in its first year at Bombay in December 1980 
during the party's first plenary session. 

Ironically, the simmering differences within the rank and file 
of the former Jana Sangh members with the liberal facade of the 
party, started coming to the fore because the new party had 


122 



abandoned the rigid organisational structure of the Jana Sangh. 
The RSS, as seen earlier, believed in a command hierarchy and 
the guiding organisational management method is the Marxist 
concept of democratic centrjalism where there is democracy 
within a basic parameter and the leadership's decisions are rarely 
questioned. This style of functioning had been followed by the 
Jana Sangh, but was abandoned in favour of a more democratic 
framework by the BJP when it was formed. Jai Prakash Narain's 
organisational- model was decentralised in character, and al- 
lowed greater opportunity to junior leaders to articulate their 
views. But, in December 1980, leaders of the BJP, who would 
have silently accepted the policies of the leadership in the rigid 
structure of the Jana Sangh, started raising questions regarding 
the new symbols that the BJP was trying to project. What 
bothered many delegates to the Bombay session was the use of 
the concept of Gandhian Socialism instead of the Integral 
Humanism of Deendayal Upadhyay. The word 'socialism' was 
found to be 'foreign' because of its links with a 'foreign ideology': 
Marxism. Delegates to the session felt that this would send 
wrong signals to the people of India. The concept of socialism 
was also ranged against the Jana Sangh's economic perspective, 
which believed in market economy. Critics of the image that the 
BJP leadership was trying to project, felt that if the party con- 
tinued to publicise concepts like Gandhian Socialism and value- 
based politics, it would make increasingly difficult for the people 
to demarcate the BJP from the Congress. This fear was best 
articulated by the senior BJP leader Vijaya Raje Scindia one of 
the vice-president then who submitted a note during the w'ork- 
ing committee meeting, prior to the plenary session. Scindia 
objected to the policies of the BJP. Her contention was that the 
new programmes of the BJP were making it a virtual 
"photocopy" of the Congress and there was little of original 
appeal for the party. Scindia withdrew her note after the party 
leadership stated that even though the BJP was using the word 
socialism, it was being used in an Indian context. Vajpayee took 


123 



the cue from the discussion in the working committee and in his 
presidential address while inaugurating the plenary session 
"took pains to distinguish Gandhian Socialism from Marxism. 
He claimed that Gandhian Socialism rejected (a) the notion that 
all ideas are grounded in 'material conditions', (b) violence as 
an instrument of policy, and (c) the concentration of political and 
economic power" But, Vajpayee's clarification did not remove 
the doubt in the minds of the delegates. Several other delegates 
objected to the use of the words. There were suggestions that 
the word socialism must be replaced by Ram Rajya. There was 
also a demand that the matter be discussed by the state units, 
before it was accepted as the official policy of the party. It was 
clear that there was no difference with the content of Gandhian 
Socialism, as mentioned in the policy statement, since it basically 
adhered to the centrist economic orientation, of the Jana Sangh. 
What was finding few takers was the choice of words. The rank 
and file of the former Jana Sangh members, were uncomfortable 
with the new phraseology that Vajpayee and his supporters 
within the party, were tr)ang to popularise. However, it was 
evident that it was only a matter of time before the BJP would 
have to revert to the old symbols, and phraseology of the days 
of the Jana Sangh. This was apparent not from the speeches of 
the party leaders, but ft’om a brief speech by one of the invited 
guests at the plenary session. M.C. Chagla, a noted jurist, who 
had been invited to the session was requested to address it. He 
made it clear that his basic agreement with the BJP was on its 
attitude towards the problem of minorities, and tne related prob- 
lem of communalism. In his speech, he agreed with the BJP's 
parspective on the issue, and declared that "after partition no 
minority in this country has the right to be called a political 
minority".^ However, the BJP in 1980, did not realise the poten- 
tial of support for its approach on the issue of communalism and 
therefore continued to project a Nehruvian facade. In 1980, the 
BJP unable to set the political agenda as it was able to do from 
the late 1980s. When the BJP was formed, it was still opposing 


124 



Indira Gandhi on her parameters. In the process, it ignored the 
pressure from within its ranks, and the likely support from 
newer social sections which had earlier stayed away from the 
Jana Sangh's sphere of influence. 

Stealthy Moves 

Even as the former Jana Sangh leaders stumbled in their effort 
to give a definite direction to the fledgling new party, the RSS 
was quietly involved in spreading its base. Though none of the 
RSS leaders frowned upon the actions of the BJP, it was clear 
that the new party had little in it to make the RSS over enthusias- 
tic about it,^^ This was apparent at the decision of the RSS leader- 
ship not to invite the BJP leaders tor the meetings of the 
sarmnyavaya samitis. At the time of its formation, the BJP was not 
really considered to be a part of the RSS clan, which by now 
came to be increasingly referred as the 'sangh parivar.' 

However, the RSS had grown significantly during the Janata 
Party's tenure. By the early 1980s, the number of shakhas had 
nearly doubled from the 1977 mark of 11,000. A report of the 
Union Home Ministry of 1981 estimated the number of regular 
RSS activists to be close to one million, and assessed the financial 
contribution from them and other sympathisers to more than 10 
million rupees every year. A significant aspect of the RSS's 
growth in the period following Emergency, was the rapid stride 
being made by the RSS in the four southern states. It is also 
significant that two RSS affiliates the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi 
Parishad, a student's organisation, and the Bharatiya Mazdoor 
Sangh, a trade union also registered significant growth (they 
nearly grew by one third of their existing strength) in the same 
period. By early 1980s the RSS had also turned its attention to 
the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an organisation initiated by Gol- 
walkar in 1964. This group but had so far concentrated on the 
north-east, where the main focus of the organisation was to 
prevent the conversion of people to Christianity. It had also been 

125 



active in running various missionary programmes. However, 
some of the activities of the VHP which had been stopped during 
the Emergency were revived once the Janata Party came to 
power. By the time Indira Gandhi returned to power, the VHP 
had considerably expanded its network and claimed to have 
nearly 3000 units spread over 437 of a total of 534 administrative 
districts in India. The organisation was being managed by 150 
full time workers drawn from the RSS, and the organisation was 
also engaged in running hostels, orphanages, medical centers 
and publishing journals that constantly raised fears of Hindus 
being swamped by 'non>Hindu foreigners.' In early 1980s, the 
RSS was concentrating on the VHP, and was eager to see its 
emergence as a significant force. 

By the end of 1980, the RSS leadership had every reason to 
feel pleased. The organisation had grown several folds in the 
past four years. Its affiliates were also poised for further growth. 
The question of dual membership that had rocked India had 
been settled, and a new political party had been foftned that was 
committed to its ties with the RSS. But the most significant factor 
in favour of the RSS, was that the Union government was no 
longer hostile to it. Indira Gandhi, much chastened after the 
defeat of 1977, no longer considered the RSS to be an anathema, 
and instead realised the latent power of a vote bank compr'sing 
the majority Hindus. However, for the RSS the biggest handicap 
in late 1980, was the absence of an emotive issue that would give 
a new impetus to its programmes. 

The RSS did not have to wait for long and in February 1981 
a handy ladle came its way. Meenakshipuram, an ob.scure village 
in Tirunelveli district in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, shot 
into national and even international prominence as it came to 
s)anbolise the 'threat to Hinduism'. Out of the 185 families which 
lived in Meenakshipuram, 143 converted to Islam in February 
1981. This incident led to a massive uproar which had echoes 
for several years. The 800 Hindus who converted to Islam were 
from the Low caste of untouchables and belonged to the Palla 


126 



sect of the Harijans. Meenakshipuram had seen caste tension 
between caste Hindus in the adjoining villages and the Harijans 
staying there. The Harijans who converted to Islam declared that 
they had taken this decision because of the rigidity in Hindu 
society and the fact that caste Hindus repressed them. The neo- 
converts to Islam were not only from the suppressed lower caste, 
but were also economically badly off. One-third of them were 
landless labourers and the others had marginal land holdings. 
One interesting detail about the Meenakshipuram conv^ions 
is that three Christian families who lived in the village, also 
embraced Islam. They had earlier converted to Christianity and 
were also from the same Palla sect of Harijans. The conversions 
in Meenakshipuram was cited by the VHP as an instance of 
"danger to Hinduism". Allegations were levelled that the con- 
versions had been engineered by Islamic fundamentalists, who 
wished to slowly change the "demographic character"^ of India. 
There were also allegations that the Gulf countries had chan- 
nelled funds to organise this mass conversion, and that the 
Harijans of Meenakshipuram had been offered monetary 
benefits, in return for converting to Islam. While the conversions 
evoked considerable interest in India, it also gave the VHP a 
chance to face the bitter fact that it could not bring about Hindu 
solidarity, unless the fissures within Hindu society were ce- 
mented. This is the time that the VHP and the RSS leaders 
realised that it could not bring about Hindu consolidation, 
without drawing religious leaders into its fold. 

An interesting aspect of the VHP so far had been its failure 
to rope in the Hindu clergy and other personalities of the in- 
stitutionalised religion. The VHP leadership was quick to realise 
that it would be unable to forge an all-encompassing Hindu 
society, unless the religious leaders called for diluting the caste 
barriers. This could not be done unless the clergy was made a 
partner in the VHP. However, since the VHP was established as 
a Trust, it had no membership and the problem arose that the 
RSS leadership even while having the religious leaders in the 


127 



VHP fold did not wish to lose control of the organisation. How- 
ever^ the Meenakshipuram conversions had precipitated the 
need for the VHP to make inroads in the clergy. The tricky issue 
was resolved by the VHP leadership, by constituting a Kendriya 
Marg Darshak Mandal in March 1981, less than a month after 
the conversions. This decision of the VHP underlines the 
desperation within the VHP as a result of the Meenakshipuram 
episode. The Mandal, consisting of religious leaders from various 
Hindu sects, was given the specific mandate of advising the VHP 
leadership and its trustees on matters relating to "Hindu 
philosophical thought and code of conduct".^’ The Mandal was 
the VHFs link to the religious leaders and would assume great 
importance in the next few years. The religious leaders in the 
Mandal, further decided to broad-base their character and con- 
stituted yet another body in 1982. The new assembly was called 
the Dharam Sansad and from the beginning was projected as the 
supreme deliberative body to decide on issues pertaining to the 
interests of the Hindus. The Mandal would convene the Sansad 
to ratify its decisions and in the process, it sought to involve a 
large number of Hindu priests in the policies of the VHP. How- 
ever, the VHP made it clear from the beginning, that while it 
would allow itself to be 'guided' by the Mandal and the Sansad, 
the decisions of the VHP would be taken by its office bearers 
alone. 

While the VHP was organisationally gearing itself up for the 
protracted struggle to 'save Hinduism' following the Meenak- 
shipuram conversions it was also engaged in preparing its 
theoretical case. A VHP publication argued that in "Bharat 
religious conversions pose a grave threat to the national security 
and integrity of the country...A large area of the motherland is 
now foreign to us because of the conversions of Hindus living 
in those places have been converted to alien faiths".^ The con- 
sistent campaign, and the formation of the Marg Darshak Man- 
dal and the subsequent attempt by some Hindu religious leaders 
in alla3dng the fears of the Lower castes, had some impact in 


128 



Meenakshipuram. In July 1981, some of the neo-converts to Islam 
had re-converted to Hinduism. But, the return of these families 
to the Hindu fold was not enough for the VHP, and by the end 
of 1982, the organisation had geared itself up sufficiently to be 
able to launch its most ambitious programme till that time. Sens- 
ing that the Meenakshipuram incident had taken place because 
of the rigidity in Hindu society, the VHP had got the mandate 
from the Marg Darshak Mandal to concentrate on elevating the 
lot of the Lower castes, tribals, and the rural poor. The argument 
put forward by the VHP was that this programme would prevent 
similar conversions in future. In January 1983, the VHP launched 
a campaign to collect five crore rupees to be spent on the 
deprived sections of Hindus. The campaign was successfully 
completed in nearly four months and re-conversions of Muslims 
and Christians became the priority area for the VHP. The VHP 
programme came at a time when Hindu sentiment was begin- 
ning to get visible in the backdrop of nascent Sikh terrorism in 
Punjab. 

The new thrust of the VHP also coincided with the elections 
to the state assembly, in Jammu and Kashmir. This election saw 
Indira Gandhi unabashedly use the communal card to split the 
state into a I lindu Jammu and a Muslim Kashmir. The Jammu 
region was electorally swept by the Congress, while the Kashmir 
Valley was bagged by the National Conference led by Sheikh 
Abdullah's son, Farooq Abdullah. The BJP which contested 
several seats in the state, failed to win a single seat even in the 
traditional Jana Sangh pockets, and it gave rise to suspicions that 
the RSS cadre had shifted its loyalty to the Congress. In fact, 
throughout the early 1980s, the RSS found little to disagree with 
Indira Gandhi's approach on sensitive issues of the time. Similar- 
ly, Mrs Gandhi also found little to disagree with the RSS. She 
and her party did not find the RSS activities irksome as it was 
steering clear of party politics and beyond the formal association, 
its links with the BJP posed no threat to the government. The 
RSS and its main affiliate of that time the VHP were engaged in 


129 



raising Piindu consciousness, and this increased awareness 
helped Indira Gandhi in communally polarising the state of 
Jammu and Kashmir and in combating Sikh militancy in Punjab 
by getting the sanction of the Hindus in the state to take stem 
administrative measures in the state. Indira Gandhi also gave 
greater credibility to the VHP and its programmes, by turning 
the proverbial Nelson's eye to the association of Karan Singh, 
one of her confidants, with the VHP. Indeed, in the initial stages 
of the VHP activities in the early 1980s, there was little to distin- 
guish between the VHP and another organisation called the Virat 
Hindu Sammelan, spearheaded by Karan Singh, a scion of the 
Kashmir princely family and a former Union Minister under 
Indira Gandhi. 

The VHP followed its success in raising funds for working 
among the deprived sections of the Hindus, with another 
programme called the Ekatmata Yagna. The programme, 
launched with the aim of driving home the message of national 
integration, had the definite plan to strengthen Hindu solidarity. 
The campaign lasting for a month from November 16, 1983 en- 
visaged processions carrying giant urns filled with water from 
the Ganga. There were public meetings and rallies in the towns 
through which the processions passed. There were three main 
marches and as many as 90 smaller marches which merged with 
one of the main marches. The month-long campaign had a 
tremendous impact on the people and the VHP claimed that 60 
million people had participated in the Ekatmata Yagna. It also 
claimed that a total of 85,000 kms were traversed during the 
programme. During the marches, the VHP also sold the Ganga 
water in small bottles and an estimated one and a half million 
such bottles were sold, adding to the coffers of the VHP. The 
processions congregated in Nagpur, the central Indian city 
where the RSS headquarters are located, and each procession 
was accompanied by a portrait of 'Bharat Mata', the deity that 
the VHP claimed, symbolised 'holy motherland.' The deity was 
mounted on the map of the Indian subcontinent and it appealed 


130 



to the average Hindu mind which appreciated any talk of 
reclaiming Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

By the time the Ekatmata Yagna came to an end in December 
1983, the VHP had succeeded in pitchforking itself in the national 
limelight. From an organisation that was virtually unknown in 
several parts of the country in 1980 when Indira Gandhi returned 
to power, the VHP was slowly emerging as an organisation 
which had the right to articulate the "grievances of Hindus". 
Gandhi on her own part had no reason to oppose the VHP and 
its programmes, as it suited her politically. She in fact was a high 
profile participant in the VHP public meeting in the capital, when 
the procession reached Delhi. An added factor was the lack of 
interaction and cooperation between the VHP and any of her 
political adversaries, including the BJP. Though it did not have 
formal members because of its organisational nature there was 
a groundswell of support for the VHP. The VHP had grown 
considerably in a short span of time primarily by dwelling on 
the threat perceptions of Hindus, of being outnumbered by Mus- 
lims. However, there were also limitations in this campaign. The 
VHP leadership felt the need to take up another issue which had 
greater emotive appeal than a matter of conversion of a few 
hundred Harijans, in a remote village in Tamil Nadu. It was also 
importc.nl to locate an issue that could be sustained over time, 
and the nature of the imbroglio would have to be such as to defy 
a speedy settlement. 

It is claimed that a few senior RSS leaders some of them were 
also active in the VHP visited Ayodhya in early 1984 when a 
meeting of the organisation was held in the state capital of Luck- 
now. Till that time, the RSS leadership had "vaguely" heard of 
the Babri Mas]iU-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute. However, when 
they "saw the plight of Ram Lalla, tears came"^’ to the eyes of 
the RSS leaders and they vowed to build a magnificent temple 
for Ram. At that time, there was no dispute in Ayodhya between 
Hindus and Muslims, and the contesting parties were continuing 
their legal battle in the local Faizabad court. However, the RSS 


131 



and VHP leaders felt that they had been able to locate the "right 
issue" after they returned from Ayodhya. In a series of informal 
meetings in Delhi and Nagpur, it was decided that the VHP 
should first enlist the support of the religious leaders and then 
launch the agitation after the sanction was granted by the clergy. 
Preparations began, the Marg Darshak Mandal was sounded out, 
and it agreed to convene a Dharam Sansad. To broad-base the 
support base among various Hindu sects, the VHP also took up 
the issue of the shrines in Mathura and Varanasi. 

It was argued that while Ram was the right image to be taken up 
at that time, because of the reverence to the legendary hero as an 
ideal human being, it was necessary to also agitate for the shrine in 
Varanasi cis it would ensure the participation of the Shaivites in the 
agitation. After all the groundwork had been done by the leaders 
of the VHP, the Dharam Sansad met for two days in Delhi on April 
7-8, 1984 at the government-owned Vigyan Bhavan, a conference 
venue that has hosted several conclaves of great importance in- 
cluding the Non-Aligned Movement's summit in 19^. The meet- 
ing, attended by nearly one thousand religious leaders from 
various sects of Hinduism, demanded that the three shrines in 
Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi be "restored" to the Hindus, as it 
was the "cause of great anguish"^ to Hindu society. The meeting 
also announced the intention to form a new organisation to be 
called Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti, and stated that this 
body would spearhead the agitation for the "liberation of Ram's 
birthplace" . Daudayal Khanna, a former Congress leader from the 
north Indian city of Moradabad, who later joined the VHP, was 
given the charge of coordinating the formation of the new or- 
ganisation. The die was finally cast three months later in Ayodhya, 
when the religious leaders met with the VHP leadership and ap- 
pointed Mahant Avaidyanath, a Hindu Mahasabha leader from 
the east Uttar Pradesh city of Gorakhpur, as the president of the 
Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti. The Mahant, who later 
defected to the BJP and went on to become a member of Parlia- 
ment, had served as MP in the late 1960s and his claim to fame was 


132 



his participation in the anti-cow slaughter agitation in the 1950s. 
But for more than a decade, limelight had eluded him, and he was 
quick to seize the opportunity by adopting a very strident tone. 

A significant feature of the VHP growth in the early years of 
the 1980s, and the subsequent formation of the body agitating 
for the "liberation of Ram Janmabhoomi", was the total hdlure 
by all political adversaries of the RSS, to assess the impact these 
developments would have in India, in a matter of a few years. 
While Indira Gandhi had her reasons for tacitly supporting the 
activities of the VHP, the developments were also ignored by 
the non-Congress parties as they were engaged in trying to cob- 
ble together a joint front to fight Indira Gandhi in the next general 
elections, scheduled in early 1985. It was also indicative of th‘; 
lack of political foresight on the part of the parties opposed to 
the idea of Hindutva, and this trait was to become a recurring 
factor as the advocates of the Hindutva idea grew in strength 
over the years. 

In 1984, the VHP was quick to realise the appeal long marches 
had for the average Hindu mind. The success of the Ekatmata 
Yagna had emboldened the VHP, and the new organisation an- 
nounced its decision to take out another march this time to be 
called Shri Ram Janki Rath Yatra. The VHP cavalcade was to 
start its joumey from the town of Sitamarhi in Bihar believed to 
be the birthplace of Sita, and would end in New Delhi on an 
aggressive note, after warning the government that unless the 
shrine at Ayodhya was handed over to the Hindus, it would 
bring the country to a grinding halt. The VHP opted for the 
march because it had a high appeal value for the average Hindu 
mind, as it had strong parallels to the tradition of tirthas 
(pilgrimages). The cavalcade, with its bedecked vehicles also had 
a high visibility and attracted curious bystanders, thus giving an 
opportunity to the VHP leaders, to have a captive audience for 
their speeches. The marches and the cavalcades would in later 
years be an important and constant feature in the VHP campaign. 
It would form a part of the VHP strategy, to use traditional motifs 


133 



and S3ntnbols to its advantage. 

The Shri Ram Janaki Rath Yatra started rolling from Sitamarhi 
on September 23, 1984 and after winding its way through the 
plains of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, reached Ayodhya on 
October 6. A public meeting was held the next day on the banks 
of the river Saryu, at which the assembled people pledged their 
resolve to "liberate Ram Janmabhoomi from the clutches of bar- 
baric invaders". The pledge was read by an impoitant Hindu 
religious leader and repeated by the crowd. The Yatra resumed 
its journey from Ayodhya the next day, and after traversing some 
more towns reached Lucknow on October 14, 1984. In a massive 
show of strength in the state capital, the VHP leaders paraded 
through the city and later held a public gathering at the Begum 
Hazrat Mahal Park, which was attended by a crowd that the 
VHP claimed was more than one million. By the time the Yatra 
headed out of the state capital, it had started getting popular 
support from the Hindu masses. At that time the nature of the 
dispute in Ayodhya was not known to the people, and the VHP 
publicised that the birthplace of Ram had been converted into a 
mosque by Babur. The VHP leaders also declared that this had 
annoyed the gods and in 1949, Ram decided to appear in the 
mosque in the form of an idol. This led to the conversion of the 
mosque into a temple, but the government had locked it up since, 
and did not allow devotees to pray inside the shrine. 

At that time the VHP had restricted its demand to unlocking 
of the gate of the shrine, and throwing it open to Hindu devotees. 
There was no mention of the Hindutva idea, and the larger world 
view that the advocates of the idea now preach. This was one of 
the main factors why the political adversaries of the RSS did not 
react to the developments of the early 1980s. The demand was 
found to be "innocuous and the real intent was cleverly dis- 
guised" .^^From Lucknow, the Yatra made its way towards Delhi 
through the plains of Uttar Pradesh. Its progress was slow as in 
every town, the Yatra would halt and the VHP and other 
religious leaders would deliver speeches explaining to the people 


134 



how Ram was "jailed in his own birthplace". The Yatra arrived 
on the outskirts of Delhi on October 30, 1984 and was scheduled 
to make its entry in the capital city the next day. The VHP had 
planned a public rally in the lawns of the Boat Club the venue 
of most political rallies. However, Indira Gandhi was assas> 
sinated early next morning at her residence by her bodyguards 
and this forced the VHP to pull the shutters do\^m. For the second 
time, the RSS had suffered a setback because of the assassination 
of a national leader. But, while it came under sharp attack after 
the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, there was nothing similar 
in 1984. Riots that followed the assassination and subsequent 
political developments forced the VHP to put the agitation of 
the Ram temple in the back seat. But, there was no denying that 
the VHP had come to have a dominant presence in Indian polity 
and it was further aided by the scant attention given to its 
manouevrings by adversaries. 


Experimenting With Strategy 

It is clear the RSS shifted its focus from its political affiliate to 
the VHP in the early 1980s, and this was one of the factors that 
led to the rise and growth of the VHP. But, the BJP floundered 
and failed to emerge as an alternative to the Congress and in- 
stead spent the early years of 1980s, in the futile exercise of 
forging a united front against Indira Gandhi, and later against 
Rajiv Gandhi after her assassination. Alter the leadership of the 
party succeeded in forcing the acceptance of the mixed policies 
of the new party at its first plenary session in Bombay in Decem- 
ber 1980, the BJ^ was content at being able to reclaim the bases 
of the former Jana Sangh. Elections had been held for the legis- 
lative assemblies in the nine states where Indira Gandhi had 
performed credibly in the general elections, and in these states, 
the BJP was able to register its political presence. The trend 
continued in subsequent by-elections in various parts of the 
country and in May 1982, it registered its best performance when 

135 



it won 29 assembly seats in Himachal Pradesh, out of a total of 
68 seats. The BJP was the largest political party in the state 
legislature, and what made the victory particukrly significant 
was the fact that it had not contested the May 1982 elections to 
the state assemblies of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and 
West Bengal, in alliance with any other party. 

This strategy was adopted by the party's national executive 
in February 1982 where the leaders rejected the concept of a 
national fi-ont to oppose Indira Gandhi. Instead, the executive 
body decided to fashion out its electoral strategy out instead of 
"carrying out unending talks about unity" The national execu- 
tive was also categorical about the future shape of the BJP when 
it resolved that the BJP would "retain its separate identity" 
However, the gains of the May 1982 state assembly elections 
were not a part of a trend, as the BJP suffered humiliating rever- 
ses in 1983. In the June 5 elections to the state assembly in the 
state of Jammu and Kashmir, Indira Gandhi cleverly split up the 
state into a Hindu Jammu region and a Muslim Kashmir Valley. 
This led to her party winning all the seats in Jammu and the 
National Conference led by Farooq Abdullah the son of Sheikh 
Abdullah who had signed the Accord of 1975 with Indira Gardhi 
won the seats in the Muslim-dominated areas in the Valley of 
Kashmir. The BJP failed to win a single seat, and in each of the 
constituencies where it had fielded candidates, the margin of 
defeat was humiliating. This was true even of constituencies 
where the Jana Sangh had a significant and traditional support 
base. The results of the elections to the state assemblies of the 
two southern states Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh also did not 
give credence to the claim of the BJP, that it had made significant 
strides in the southern states. 

However, these results were a part of the phase of electoral 
shocks for the BJP, that started with the elections for the two 
local bodies of Delhi. Elections for the Metropolitan Council and 
the Municipal Corporation were held in February 1983 and the 
BJP leadership hoped to muster a majority. The hopes however. 


136 



were dashed by the voters who opted for the Congress. Delhi, a 
traditional Jana Sangh base due to the RSS's role after Partition, 
and also because of the large presence of the trading community 
that formed the bulwark of the BJFs support base. However, in 
the February 1983 elections, the BJP succeeded in winning only 
19 of the 56 Municipal Corporation seats and 37 of the 100 
Metropolitan Council seats. In these elections, the BJP lost to the 
Congress the majority of constituencies dominated by people 
who had migrated from Pakistan during Partition. On the other 
hand, the party did make some inroads into Muslim-dominated 
areas and also in the new settlements on the outskirts of the 
capital. The elections of 1983 gave credence to a growing 
suspicion that the RSS had begun shifting its loyalties to th^^ 
Congress. This was most evident in Delhi and Jammu, where the 
BJP candidates failed to get a significant number of votes, even 
in areas that were considered strongholds of the RSS. While none 
of the senior RSS leaders issued a formal statement, it was clear 
that a growing number of swayamsemks were turning to the 
Congress, and away from the BJP. This was seemingly accepted 
by the RSS leadership and was viewed by the cadre as a silent 
endorsement of their decision. It is not difficult to find reasons 
for this change of faith by the loyalties of the RSS activists. At 
that time Indira Gandhi was taking a strident line against grow- 
ing Sikh fundamentalism, by dividing the state of Jammu and 
Kashmir on communal lines. She thus helped forge Hindu 
solidarity in the state. She was also maintaining a non-critical 
position on the most significant of contemporary RSS program- 
mes i.e. the campaigns of the VHP. In the early 1980s there were 
strong parallels between the RSS's approach with that of 
Golwalkar's decision in the 1940s to disengage itself from the 
Hindu Mahasabha, and to project itself as a cultural ally of the 
Congress. It appeared that the RSS believed that only the Con- 
gress had the ability to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra Indira 
Gandhi was quick to realise this and the situation was to her 
advantage. 


137 



The disenchantment of the RSS leadership showed up in an 
article in the RSS organ. Organiser, where the writer was critical 
of the BJP for playing down the Hindu content of the party's 
policies. The writer argued that while he did not have any 
problems with the BJP's efforts to attract non-Hindus into its 
folds, but these attempts may also be seen by many as a "certain 
weakening of character" Following the debacle in Delhi, Vaj- 
payee offered his resignation, but the party persuaded him to 
cany on and elected him for a second term in March 1983. The 
electoral reverses resulted in the BJP attempting to forge a 
democratic alliance with other non-Congress parties. It made 
some headway in this respect. Leaders of 13 non-Congress par- 
ties met at a conclave convened by the Chief Minister of Andhra 
Pradesh, N.T. Rama Rao. There was a broad agreement that the 
parties should try to work in tandem. The National Council of 
the BJP met at Indore in Madhya Pradesh in the first week of 
January 1984. It took stock of the political developments since 
Vajpayee was re-elected party president. Vajpaye^, in his open- 
ing remarks declared that the nine months between the two 
sessions had "been eventful, even productive. In Delhi, I had 
given you an appraisal. I had also offered you a concept. In my 
appraisal I had painted a dark picture of the countr/s drift and 
of the wrong direction in which the government was heading. 
In my concept, I saw immediate hope of meeting this challenge 
through the formation of a national democratic alliance...Events 
during the last nine months have fully vindicated my appraisal 
and even gone beyond its worst fears about this government's 
perversity. However, at -the same time, our efforts during the 
last nine months have also resulted in the formation of the Na- 
tional Democratic Alliance" 

The much-touted alliance that Vajpayee mentioned was in 
fact little beyond a fragile understanding between the BJP and 
the Lok Dal headed by Charan Singh. When elections were held 
in December 1984 after Indira Gandhi's assassination, even this 
link snapped and the BJP had to go in for the elections without 


138 



any allies at a national level though it succeeded in cobbling 
together regional allies in some states. The 'sympathy wave' and 
the fears of a extremist takeover of the country led to a landslide 
victory of the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi the party won 401 
of the 508 seats that it contested. The BJP, along with the other 
opposition parties, was decimated. The BJP contested 221 seats 
and won in only two one in Gujarat and the other in Andhra 
Pradesh. The entire top leadership of the party, including Vaj- 
payee, suffered humiliating defeats. However, the BJP leaders 
took solace in the fact that though routed in the elections, it stiU 
managed to secure 7.7 per cent of the total votes. Not only was 
the party's share second to the Congress it secured 49.16 per cent 
of the votes but the figure was fairly close to the best performance 
of the Jana Sangh in 1967 when it secured 9.4 per cent of the 
votes. 

In the general elections there were indications that the RSS 
cadre had thrown their lot behind the Congress. Assumedly 
because of the threat to the security of India arising from the 
assassination and the steadfast refusal of the Congress either 
under Indira Gandhi or under her son to be critical of the RSS. 
The BJP image however, was one of a party v'hose activists had 
come tc the rescue of Sikhs targeted in the anti-Sikh riots of 
November 1984. While the Congress was considered to be in- 
strumental in Sj.'arking off attacks against Sikhs in several cities 
in north India the worst riots being in Delhi where nearly three 
thousand Sikhs were killed in a span of four days the BJP was 
emerging as a champion of secular politics in Delhi This had an 
immediate impact in the elections when the BJP did creditably 
in those areas a\ niinated by Sikhs but had little support in areas 
with a predominant Hindu population. 

Predictably, the results of the elections were the main issue 
for discussion at the BJP national executive in January. With a 
few exceptions all speakers who spoke at the three-day meeting 
were critical of Vajpayee's national democratic alliance theory. 
The meeting resolved that the party would not join a national 


139 



front but that electoral adjustments should not be ruled out. 
There was also a debate about which principles the BJP needed 
to adopt. This was the beginning of a recurrent phase in the party 
when the earlier question of choosing one of the two legacies Jai 
Prcikash Narain's or the Jana Sangh's resurfaced. There was a 
growing demand that the BJP revert to the traditional approach 
of the Jana Sangh and abandon the policies of JP. The party, 
which in its election manifesto released just a month earlier had 
said nothing about the situation in kashmir, now adopted the 
old Jana Sangh demand of abrogating Article 370 of the Con- 
stitution that gave special privileges to the state. The executive 
also demanded that the government should give a nuclear edge 
to the Indian defence capabilities. The process of the BJP revert- 
ing to the traditional symbols of the Jana Sangh began with the 
executive meeting. This process was strengthened at the next 
executive session in July 1985, when the BJP abandoned the 
principle of Gandhian Socialism while adopting Integral 
Humanism as the guiding philosophy of the party. Meanwhile, 
the BJP leaders also started attending meetings of the 
samanyavaya samitis in certain states. This was an indication that 
the BJP leadership realised that their prospects were not good 
unless they secured the support of the RSS cadre. To do this, the 
party would have to reconsider the structured philosophical ap- 
proach of the RSS and the Jana Sangh. 

Recovering From The Setback 

By October 1985, both the VHP and the BJP had recovered from 
the numbing shock of their election debacle and had initiated 
plans to seize the centre-stage of the political theatre of India. 
On the first anniversary of India GandhTs assassination, the 
Dharam Sansad started its two-day deliberations at Udipi in the 
southern state of Karnataka. They ended with the threat that 
unless the Union government initiated steps to unlock the dis- 
puted shrine at Ayodhya and throw it open to Hindu devotees, 

140 



several Hindu religious leaders led by Mahant Ramchandra 
Paramhans Das, the chief of Digambar Akhara, the 'skyclads', 
would self-immolate themselves in front of the shrine. A com- 
mittee was formed of various religious leaders who would coor- 
dinate with the VHP leaders in managing the agitation and 
pressing for the demand of the organisation. Meanwhile, the BJP 
was considering the report of a small committee appointed by 
Vajpayee to review the functioning of the BJF since its inception. 
The committee agreed with the decision of the national executive 
that the BjP must adopt the policy of Integral Humanism in place 
of Gandhian Socialism even though the party must adopt a 
"Gandhian approach" to the socio-economic problems. There 
was a protracted debate in party circles over the nature of sym- 
bols that the BJP and its leadership should project. However, 
there was very little discussion on the ideological policies of the 
party. Rather, the moot points were the image that would be 
projected through the symbols on the facade of the party edifice. 

Subsequent to the Dharam Sansad at Udipi, the VHP initiated 
the process of lobbying Congress ministers and other party 
leaders to secure support for the demand of opening the locked 
door. Though he has denied it formally, there are suggestions 
that a key role was played by Arun Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi's cousin 
and Mimster of Internal Security. Another Congress leader who 
was "broadly supportive"^ of the VHP demand was Vir 
Bahadur Singh, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh at that time. 
What followed was a series of meetings between various VHP 
and Congress leaders. One of these key meetings was between 
Singh and Vishwanath Katju, president of the VHP and some 
other leaders of the organisation. The meeting was held at Ayod- 
hya on December 19, 1985. The crucial factor at the meeting was 
Singh's willingness, to allow legal experts to study the details of 
the ongoing title dispute, and so find a way by which the lock 
':ould be opened without attracting contempt of court. Katju in 
the meeting made it clear that the burden of finding a way to 
accede to the VHP demand, lay with the state government and 


141 



that unless the demand for unlocking the gate was met, the VHP 
would continue with the agitation. Furthermore, the VHP would 
not be able to guarantee that the religious leaders who had 
previously declared their intention of immolating themselves 
would not actually carry out their threat. A VHP account says 
that when Singh "visited Ayodhya on the occasion of the 
Ramayan Mela sponsored by government agencies, a few of us 
headed by Mr Ka^u had assembled at Ayodhya to press for our 
demand for the liberation of Sri Ram Janmabhoomi... The Chief 
Minister did not then give any reply but listened to all that was 
said before him in an impassioned plea for the removal of the 
said locks" It is particularly interesting to note that even at this 
late stage in the agitation for the "liberation of Ram Janmab- 
hoomi" the VHP did not state that its main demand was for a 
new temple in place of the Babri Masjid. There was also no 
inkling of the temple agitation being merely a part cf the wider 
agitation for the spread of the Hindutva idea. Th^ demand until 
1985 was restricted to the question of opening the gate that had 
been locked up in 1949, following the idols being forcibly in- 
stalled inside the mosque. At a casual glance the VHP demand 
appeared to be fairly harmless and this gave rise to complacency 
among the political adversaries of the RSS. Rajiv Gandhi's 
government had not viewed the VHP as its adversary for, until 
that time there were no visible links between the VHP and the 
BJP. The feeling was in fact, that they stood to gain from the 
agitation as they would be seen by the majority Hindus as being 
instrumental in allowing them access to the idols. 

Unlocking The Mosque 

There \^^as a flurry of activity as the Congress made hectic efforts 
to acquiesce to the VHP demand. Files were requisitioned and 
legal luminaries including one senior judge of the Supreme Court 
were consulted. The VHP had been claiming that the order to 
lock up the gate of the shrine had not been a judicial verdict but 

142 



had been a simple administrative measure and that there would 
not be a case of contempt of court if the gate was unlocked. The 
VHP also accepted the Congress government's attempt to help 
them in opening the gate. The organisation's account of that 
period states: "A close search of the records appears to have been 
ordered."*® Finally^ the contention of the VHP was found to be 
true and it was decided that the local courts in Faizabad would 
be petitioned. In the last week of January 1986, Umesh Chandra 
Pandey, a young lawyer practising in the Faizabad district court, 
was asked by local VHP and Congress leaders to file a petition 
in the local court. He first appealed to the local munsif. But when 
the petition was turned down, Pandey went to the District Judge 
on February 1, 1986. As the judge had already been made aware 
of the legal position of the complicated dispute, he declared that 
there was no judicial restraint on unlocking the two gates leading 
to the inside of the mosque. When examined the Senior Super- 
intendent of Police told the judge that there would be no threat 
to peace if the locks were opened. Whereupon the judge ordered 
the unlocking of the gates. The order was implemented by the 
local authorities the same day in "as much time as it took a police 
officer to reach Sri Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya from the 
courtroom of the district judge at Faizabad".*’ This clearly es- 
tablished the intention of the State machinery to accede to the 
VHP demand. While there was much jubilation in the twin cities 
now that Ram had been liberated, there was great consternation 
among Muslims that they were not allowed to intervene in the 
case heard by the judge. The Muslims had rushed to the court 
after hearing that Pandey's petition had been admitted. It is now 
clear that the details of the order and subsequent action had been 
worked out well in advance so there could and would be no 
deviation. The VHP had won the day and thousands of Hindu 
devotees assembled around the Babri Masjid. They queued in 
i'ont of its gate for the chance t. have a darshan of the idols 
installed there more than 36 years before. The irony of these 
developments is that there was tacit complicity, of the Congress 


143 



government, in the decision to allow access witlwut giving the 
Muslim contenders a chance to present their case. 

The VHP had been at the forefront of the Ayodhya campaign 
up until the events of February 1, 1986, but they were now joined 
by several groups of angry Muslim leaders. Predictably, there 
were howls of protest from the Muslims concerning the decision 
of the Faizabad judge and the subsequent action. This not only 
vitiated the political atmosphere in the country, but also led to 
a series of violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims, in 
several parts of the country. The day after the Babri Masjid was 
thrown open, the twin cities of Faizabad remained calm in spite 
of rising tension as the Muslims there decided to observe a 
'bandh'. Prohibitory orders were clamped in the two towns even 
as Hashim Ansari despatched angry letters to the President and 
the Prime Minister, seeking their intervention. Muslims in Ayod- 
hya were still reeling under the shock of the^ mosque being 
handed over to the Hindus as Muslim leaders in Delhi began 
chalking out their strategy. The nine-member working commit- 
tee of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board met in the capital 
on February 2, 1986 and expressed its "deep sense of shock at 
the virtual handing over of the Babri Masjid to the Hindu com- 
munity, without any decision on the substantive question of 
origin and title" The body, one of the apex MusUm organisa- 
tions, was composed of both religious and political leaders. It 
had members from both the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam a fact 
which contradicts the claims made later by the advocates of the 
Hindutva idea, that while the Shias were willing to hand over 
the mosque to the Hindus, the Sunnis were unwilling. 

The board also tried to explain what the handing over of the 
mosque to the Hindus meant. The board stated that "this 
unilateral seizure will only serve to undermine the faith of the 
Muslim community in the political order and the judicial sys- 
tem".^^ However, the meeting did not sound a clarion call for 
any confrontationist posture. It asked the Muslims to "act with 


144 



restraint and not in anger, to pray to Allah for the liberation of 
the Masjid"'.^ The meeting concluded with an appeal to the 
government to prevent puja in the mosque till the "title suits 
pending"^^ were decided and requested "political parties and all 
secular forces to support the demand for the restoration of the 
mosque to the Muslim community".'** The All India Muslim 
Youth Conference also held a meeting in Delhi on the same day 
and called for "legal and political pressure to regain the 
mosque" Even as the Muslim community indicated and 
demonstrated its anger a day after the opening of the locks, the 
VHP refused to keep a low profile. Sensing that it stood to gain 
by precipitating the deterioration of the tense communal atmos- 
phere, it gave a call to obserN^e February 4, 1986 as Victory Day 
an action which was bound to evoke protests from the Muslims. 
Hindus took out victory processions in several parts of north 
India, for till then the influence of the VHP was concentrated in 
this part of the country. Predictably, Muslims reacted against the 
celebrations leading to Hindu-Muslim clashes in several 
townships near Faizabad. 

Barely 72 hours had passed since the Babri Masjid had been 
opened up to Hindu devotees, when the communal situation 
started to nosedive. Syed Shahabuddin, the acting president of 
the Mc.ilis-e-Mushawarat. another representative body of the 
Muslim leadership, gave a call that Muslims should observe 
February 14, 1986 as a black day of mourning, replete with black 
flags and badges. He urged Muslims in every part of the country 
to petition local authorities and demand the restoration of the 
mosque. Even as Ayodhya was wearing a "festive look and 
received thousands of Hindu pilgrims"^* pouring in from the 
neighbouring ^reas, the VFIP and the Muslim leadership were 
locking horns. Muslims from all over India passed angry resolu- 
tions, even as the VHP mounted a campaign by demanding that 
the custody of the shrine be handed over to a trust floated by 
themselves. This trust would be given the independence to 
rebuild the existing structure. Angry demonstrations by Muslims 


145 



in various parts of north India became the order of the day. In 
Aligarh, the students of Aligarh Muslim University, observed a 
protest day on February 7. The resulting tension led to the 
closure of the university for six days thereafter. 

On February 10, 1986 the president of the Uttar Pradesh unit 
of the BJP, Kalyan Singh, who would later be installed as the 
Chief Minister of the state government, headed by his party, 
called upon the Union government to take action against Muslim 
leaders, who refused to accept the judicial verdict on the opening 
of the shrine. The irony of this being that the demand for action 
against non-acceptance of a judicial verdict was first made by a 
person who would later be among the main votaries of the BJP 
argument, that the Ayodhya dispute was not and issue that could 
be decided by the judiciary. 

By this time a key Muslim leader who had been biding his 
time, came to the forefront. Syed Shahabuddin, a member of the 
Indian Foreign Service until 1978 when he quit to join the Janata 
Party, emerged on the scene and started projecting himself as a 
frontline Muslim leader. On February 6, 1986, he wrote to Prime 
Minister Rajiv Gandhi shortly before his departure for the Mal- 
dives on a state visit. In the letter, Shahabuddin stated that the 
the episode in Ayodhya had "created a deep sense of humilia- 
tion" among Muslims and that "they do not know what to do 
and whom to turn to".^’ The former IFS officer was no doubt 
making a case for his own emergence as the undisputed Muslim 
leader in India when he stated in the same letter that it would 
be "a sad day if an entire community is pushed against the wall 
with no one to speak for them and none to comprehend the 
anguish of their heart"*’ After establishing his credentials as a 
person capable of articulating the grievances of the Muslims, 
Shahabuddin was clear about what he wanted; "The order of the 
District Judge was addressed to the defendants, namely, the 
government of Uttar Pradesh, which meekly complied with it. 
It is for the state government to file an appeal or a writ petition 
before the High Court against the order praying that status quo 


146 



ante be restored till die question of title is finally settled... As 
custodian of the dignity of a minority community because of its 
nationwide implications, the central government should also in- 
tervene in the case and the Attorney General of India should be 
deputed to represent its point of view...You may kindly advise 
the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to file an appeal and seek an 
urgent hearing."®’ Shahabuddin however, was not imaware of 
the government's limitations. In another letter to the Union 
Home Minister on the same day, he stated that it "may not be 
possible for the government to concede the demand of the res- 
toration of the Babri Masjid, to the community until the title suits 
are divided, but it should be possible for the government of UP 
to restore the status quo as on February 1, 1986".®^ 

At this time also a Muslim petition had reached the High 
Court seeking a review of the order of the District Judge. When 
this was refused, they approached Vir Bahadur Singh on 
February 10, to intervene in the case. But their demand was 
dismissed. By the time the Muslims heeded Shahabuddin's call 
to observe February 14, 1986 as a black day, the communal 
situation in the entire state of Uttar Pradesh had become volatile. 
Many other parts of the country had become affected and in 
Delhi, police opened firing on a demonstration staged by angry 
Muslims of the walled city. This resulted in the death of two 
Muslim youths, and led to the imposition of indefinite curfew 
in the affected ureas of the city. The Mushawarat submitted a 
memorandum to the Prime Minister on the same day charging 
that the VHP had "systematically carried out a campaign for the 
last two years for the physical occupation of the Babri Masjid on 
the alleged groetid that it stands on the birthsite of Ram. They 
have deliberately tried to build up a religious hysteria....This 
campaign is not religious but political. It is to destroy the secitlar 
order, to subvert the rule of the law and to humiliate the Muslim 
community. To nurture hatred and ill feeling between the Hindu 
and Muslim communities and generally prepare the country for 
a takeover by fascist forces in the name of Hindu chauvinism".®® 


147 



The memorandum also stated that following the opening of 
the locks of the Babri Masjid, the faith of the Muslims in "the 
secular order had been eroded; their confidence in the judiciary 
has been shaken; for them the constitutional guarantees have 
been drained out of all meaning and the rule of law has become 
a farce; the political system has shown itself to be subservient to 
the forces of chauvinism and revanchism; the mass media in- 
cluding Doordarshan have turned into purveyors of one-sided 
propaganda because the picture presented by them has been so 
distorted as to be beyond recognition, as if no masjid exists at 
all and it is the Muslims who arc creating a dispute by obstruct- 
ing the Hindus from praying in the temple".®^ The memorandum 
made it clear that while the Mushawarat had no illusions about 
the complicity of the Congress party and the Union government 
in allowing infiltration of the Babri Masjid, it did not want to 
criticise the Indian state in overt terms. 

However, the manner in which the Muslim leadership con- 
ducted its agitation for the restoration of the Babri Masjid in the 
initial weeks, suggested that unwittingly perhaps, it gave the 
impression that it was headed for a confrontation with the Hindu 
community, and not with the Indian State. This was in contrast 
to the campaign launched by a section of the Muslim leadership 
on the question of granting maintenance to the Muslim woman, 
divorced by her husband. The issue had dominated the greater 
part of 1985 following the Supreme Court verdict delivered in 
April of that year. It held that a Muslim woman had right to 
maintenance after divorce even following the payment after the 
customary three month period of iddat till her death or her remar- 
riage. The judgment was hailed by the Muslim intelligentsia as 
a positive development, but there were shrieks of protest frx>m 
the Muslim leadership which charged the Supreme Court with 
interference in the Muslim Personal Law. A sustained campaign 
was launched and finally the Union government bowed to the 
demand of the Muslim leaders and passed an Act in Parliament 
which specified that maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman 


148 



need not be paid by her former husband beyond the customary 
period of iddat or three lunar cycles, if the woman was no longer 
menstruating.®® The government's decision was projected by the 
VHP as an instance of Muslim appeasement of the government 
and was used in the temple campaign. The agitation to reverse 
the Supreme Court judgment was directed against the Indian 
state by the Muslim leaders, and not against the Hindus as the 
case appeared in the context of the Babri Masjid. In later years. 
Jawed Habeeb, a Muslim journalist who emerged as a key Mus- 
lim leader said that in the initial stages the Muslim leadership 
should not have tried to "take on the Hindus, but should have 
been more critical of the Congress, and gone to the non-sectarian 
section of Hindus instead of addressing themselves solely to th? 
Muslims".®* By the third week of February 1986, the battle lines 
had been drawn. On one side was the VHP which was now 
getting increasing support from the Hindu masses by promoting 
the idea Muslims were opposed to prayers at the alleged 
birthsite. On the other side, were various Muslim leaders, cutting 
across party lines in many cases, who were slowly moving 
towards forging a joint front to combat the VHP campaign. At 
this point, the Union government refused to be drawn into any 
action and preferred to play the role of a passive audience, 
provoked into action only when it had to police riot-affected 
towns. 

Rajiv Gandhi personified his mother's approach of ttiming a 
Nelson's eye to the activities of the VHP. Neither he, nor any of 
his political confidants had the political acumen to anticipate the 
political potential of the temple agitation. Besides, there were 
indications that some of his most trusted political allies were 
more than sympathetic to the cause of the VHP. Sharing the belief 
that the mosque had been built after the demolition of a temple 
and that it should be handed back to the Hindus. Rajiv Gandhi 
was not alone in failing to sense the potential and resolve of the 
VHP, and its ability to slowly pitchfork itself into the centre stage 
of the Indian .political theatre. The non-Congress parties, barring 


149 



the BJP, condemned the opening of the locks and the two com- 
munist parties the CPI(M) and the CPI also charged the govern- 
ment with complicity. These statements however, were issued 
long after the opening of the locks had permeated to the lowest 
levels in the Muslim community. These parties could no longer 
therefore project themselves as the the first upholders of the 
minority rights. Had these parties taken the lead immediately 
after the opening of the locks, and not waited for more than a 
fortnight, the communal situation. would not have turned so 
vicious. The VHP would have not been able to convince the 
Hindus that Muslims per se, were opposed to them offering 
prayers to the idols installed in the mosque. By allowing the 
Muslim leadership to take the initiative in fighting for the res- 
toration of the Babri Masjid, these parties were as much respon- 
sible as all other political forces for vitiating the communal 
atmosphere in 1986. 

Protests Galore 

Throughout February 1986, the lead in protest actions against 
the decision of the Faizabad District Judge was being taken by 
the Muslim leaders with Shahabuddin at the forefiront. Articu- 
late, and well educated, he drew upon his experience of being a 
member of the Indian Foreign Service. He projected a different 
image from the traditional small-town Muslim politician. He also 
perfected the art of projecting a dual facade. At home and among 
people fiom the same social class, he would be dressed in infor- 
mal Western attire, but whenever he faced the Muslims at the 
grassroots, he would present himself in the traditional robes 
donned by Muslims. Shahabuddin, even in the early stages of 
the confrontation between the VHP and the Muslim leadership, 
was slowly becoming the hate symbol projected by the VHP, and 
he was enjoying every bit of it. He convened a meeting of Muslim 
members of Parliament on February 20, 1986 because the situa- 
tion "demands a calm appraisal with a view to arrive at a strategy 

150 



for undoing the wrong to the community. Forgetting all our 
political differences, all Muslim MPs must therefore put their 
heads together to find the way out."^ 

The meeting turned out to be an eventful one not so much 
for the deliberations inside the Constitution Club in the capital, 
but for the thousands of activists of the Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, 
an organisation sponsored by the Delhi unit of the VHP, who 
turned up in large numbers, and raised slogans against the Mus< 
lims MPs who were deliberating inside. An official press release 
of the Samiti said that the protesters raised slogans like 'ab hoi 
Babur paida naheen hone denge' ("now we shall not let another 
Babur be bom"). B.L. Sharma Trem', convener of the Samiti at 
that time (he became a BJP MP from a constituency in Delhi in 
1991) declared that "some communal-minded leaders were creat- 
ing internal trouble in India with foreign help. The Muslims 
should accept the reality of Indian history, and create an atmos- 
phere of brotherhood to live a peaceful and harmonious life, like 
members of one family."®* Other speakers who addressed the 
assembled activists of the Samiti said that "foreign invaders had 
demolished Hindu temples and hammered our nationhood, and 
their supporters would not be allowed to repeat the same and 
that the responsibility for the disintegration of the country would 
rest on ■ he Muslim leaders."®’ 

This demonstration in the capital was also important because 
this was the first time that Ram was sought to be equated with 
Indian nationalism, and the loyalty to the mythological hero was 
projected as a yardstick to determine patriotic fervour. One of 
the slogans raised at the demonstration was "Voice against Ram 
is a voice against the nation".®^ This slogan would be the basis 
of the argument of the advocates of the Hindutva idea in later 
years when justifying the agitation for the Ram temple. It would 
come to acquire a boisterous tone and would be mouthed 
vociferously. But in February 1986, those opposing the.RSS and 
its affiliates failed to comprehend the implications of the slogaii, 
and the future shape and canon of the temple agitation. The 


151 



views expressed by the Samiti during this demonstration were 
to be echoed in subsequent years, by the leaders and publications 
of the VHP. A VHP publication published nearly two years after 
the locks of the Babri Masjid were opened, recounts the Muslim 
reaction after the events thus: "The Muslims who did not believe 
in the Indian Constitution, and did not accept the judicial process 
of the country, started a vicious and poisonous campaign. They 
boycotted the Republic Day (a call given by Muslim leaders but 
later withdrawn) and by other actioits proved that the Muslims 
did not believe in the country's tradition, culture, society and 
law".*^ It must be noted that even in the aggressive campaign 
initiated by the Muslim leaders, their main demand was that the 
lock should not have been opened till the disposal of the title 
suits pending in the Faizabad courts. Since this had been done, 
the government of Uttar Pradesh should petition the High Court 
to reverse the verdict of the District Judge. Nowhere in their 
campaign did the Muslim leaders state that the^ would not 
accept the judicial verdict, even if the award went against them 
and the disputed shrine was declared to be a temple. 

Within a month of opening the locks, the situation in several 
parts of India had become heated end was on the boil. Muslims 
all over India reacted against Hindus taking over the mosque. 
The virulent VHP campaign was allowed to continue unchecked 
in several parts of the country. Victory processions were taken 
out with the express aim of inflaming Muslim sentiments and in 
places where they reacted to these processions there were violent 
clashes. Similarly, Muslims took out protest demonstrations and 
when Hindus tried preventing the marches, there were riots. In 
the absence of any political initiative from a crippled opposition, 
Muslim leaders had a field day. The situation was ideal for them 
to try to gain a pivotal position in Indian polity, and they were 
not slow in realising this. While the keen tussle for securing the 
pre-eminent position was not an obvious one, it was clear that 
the contingent bonhomie exhibited by Muslim leaders in public 


152 



would not stay for long. It was not long before ego supplanted 
protest, especially when greater importance was accorded to the 
views of another. 

Syed Shahabuddin emerged as one of the leading voices of 
the Tehrik-e-Bazyabi-e-Babri Masjid' (Movement for the Res- 
toration of the Babri Masjid). 'Muslim India', the journal he 
edited emerged as a significant platform, where the views of 
many Muslim leaders were collated. In the March issue of the 
journal, the first after the "unilateral seizure", Shahabuddin 
wrote that after the episode at Ayodhya "for all practical pur- 
poses the Indian state has been transformed into a Hindu state. 
The transformation had been going behind the facade of 
secularism for quite some time. Now that political expediency 
has come to outweigh ideological considerations in the calcula- 
tion of politicians, no pretense is any longer necessary. Hence 
the mask is off. Realism demands that the facade be dismantled, 
the Muslim community should apply its mind to the shape of 
things to come in order to prepare itself for a long and hard 
struggle" .‘^Shahabuddin's journal and his endeavour were con- 
troversial because of his choice of the phrase 'Muslim India' as 
the name of the journal. People were highly critical of him, 
arguing that the journal should be named 'Indian Muslim'. 
Shahabuddin has also been criticised by fellow politicians and 
several intellectuals for launching a campaign that was too ag- 
gressive. The fact that his political ambitions overtook his desire 
to actually right the wrong was also pointed out. In fact among 
the Muslim politicians at the forefront of the campaign for the 
restoration of the Babri Masjid, one of the most controversial 
roles has been played by Shahabuddin. But, in 1986, the former 
IPS officer was immune to such criticism and in the same issue 
he contended: 

"Muslim India, written off in cold blood by M.A. Jinnah, 
survived the trauma of vivisection. MusUm India Survived 
communal carnage, economic strangulation, religious restric- 
tions, pressures of assimilation and absorption, political mar- 


153 



ginalisatioii....Muslim India shall survive the loss of the Babri 
Masjid. But, 

* Shall India survive? 

* Shall India of Gandhi and Nehru survive? 

* Shall the democratic system survive? 

* Shall the rule of law survive?"*^ 

When Shahabuddin wrote these lines there were many, in- 
cluding some among the Muslim intelligentsia, who felt that he 
was being alarmist and that the VI|P agitation did not have such 
threatening potential. Some of colleagues in the Janata Party 
charged him with the habit of crying wolf all the time. But, these 
were all questions that Shahabuddin, for all his political cun- 
ningness, posed in March 1986, and as events have later estab- 
lished, the India that Shahabuddin was talking about has not 
actually been able to survive. Meanwhile rhe Muslims of India 
have lost the Babri Masjid and the community is at the 
crossroads. 

Throughout the first half of 1986, the debate raged incessantly. 
The VHP stepped up its campaign and declared that the opening 
of the locks was the first step in building a magnificent temple 
in place of the existing structure they refused to term the Babri 
Masjid as a mosque. The leaders spearheading the movement 
for the restoration of the mosque argued that "try as we might 
to project the Babri Masjid question as a question of democracy 
and secularism of Constitution and rule of law, of progress and 
development, the needle finally gets stuck in the groove of 
Hindu-Muslim interaction. It becomes a Hindu-Muslim ques- 
tion".^ Meanwhile, with the law and order situation remaining 
as volatile as it was in the immediate aftermath of opening the 
locks, the Union government and other non-BJP parties either 
maintained a studied silence, or refrained from adopting a path 
where agitations were the only instruments. This prompted the 
Muslim leadership to conclude that: "In such a conflict, not only 
the government, but the political system as a whole objectively 
sides with the numerically superior side out of electoral com- 


154 



pulsions".®® This argument did not appear far-fetched in 1986, 
the Hindu vote bank was beginning to surface but at that time 
there were no takers, for the BJP was not yet part of the con- 
sideration. The Congress clearly thought that they stood to gain 
electorally if a Hindu vote bank fructified. The unsubtle aim of 
Rajiv Gandhi was a carbon copy of his mother's: Allow the VHP 
to continue with its campaign and thus gain the electoral support 
of the RSS cadre disillusioned as it was with the BJP for pursuing 
the legacy of Jai Prakash Narain. Rajiv Gandhi was in fact at- 
tempting to ride two horses at the same time. The reasoning was 
that the Muslim conservatives had been satisfied by the enact- 
ment of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) 
Act, and the Hindus were being assuaged by the opening of the 
Babri Masjid. However realpolitik was not as quite simple as 
that envisaged by the Congress in 1986. It took a long time to 
realise this, but by then the communalisation of Indian polity 
had become an irreversible process. 

By the middle of 1986, the reality of a deteriorating Hindu- 
Muslim relationship had become evident in large areas of India. 
The hegemony of the Ram temple issue was now apparent. It 
was the BJP which threw a spanner in the Congress works. 
Throughout 1985, as already mentioned, the party had witnessed 
a fiery det^ate about the nature of the symbols that the party was 
to project. By the time the locks on the gates of the Babri Masjid 
had been opened, it was becoming increasingly clear that the BJP 
was poised for a turnaround and return to the legacy of the Jana 
Sangh and thereby come closer to the RSS and become a more 
active member of the sangh parivar. The final departure firom 
the legacy of Jai Prakash Narain came in May 1986 at the plenary 
session of the paity in Bombay. The most significant decision 
taken at this meeting held between May 9-11, 1986 was the 
election of Lai Krishna Advani as party president and the near 
^otal sidelining of Vajpayee and his policies. In his speech, after 
oeing elected party president, Advani was emphatic in em- 
phasising the Jana Sangh roots of the BJP. He also made no 


155 



attempts to hide his ties with the RSS of which he had once been 
' a pracharak and had later worked in the Organiser, the weekly 
tabloid supported by the RSS. In his acceptance speech, Advani 
made repeated references to the demands of the RSS and the 
Jana Sangh. He made it clear that the demand for the abrogation 
of Article 370 of the Constitution would be high on the priority 
list of the BJP. He also categorically stated that his party would 
be steadfast in its demand for a Uniform Civil Code and criticised 
the Union government for bowing to the demand of the Muslim 
leadership on the Shah Bano case, by enacting the Muslim 
Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. Advani also 
made repeated oblique appeals to the RSS cadre to support the 
BJP. He argued that the party was better poised to protect the 
political interests of the Hindus, rather than the Congress which 
was projected as a party that would bow to various pressure 
groups. By the time the plenary session of the BJP ended, it was 
clear that the BJP had retur^ied to the Jana Sangh's image, and 
would project itself as a party whose first concern was to protect 
the political and social interests of the Hindus. It was also clear 
that it would seek closer working ties with RSS affiliates like the 
VHP even though at this stage there were no references to the 
Ayodhya issue. It must be noted that the Hindu nationalist ideol- 
ogy that the RSS believed in was not disguised by the BJP at this 
session, and it was clear that there would be no ideological 
dilution. It was a return to the ways of the Jana Sangh with the 
aim of forging ahead. This task was placed on the shoulders of 
Advani. In the four and a half year period of his presidency not 
only did his personal stature grow tremendously, but the BJP 
also experienced a manifold expansion having a clear influence 
on Indian polity. But to understand the growth of the BJP in the 
years after 1986, one shall need to trace the evolution of the Jana 
Sangh in its formative years after the assassination of Mahatma 
Gandhi, the subsequent disaffection of the Congress with the 
RSS and its eventual ban. 


156 



Early Political Moves 

Fourteen years after it's formation in 1951, the formal 
programme of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (previously and hence- 
forth referred to as Jana Sangh) listed its main objective as 
"rebuilding of Bharat on the basis of Bharatiya sanskriti and 
maryada".^ It went on to argue that the "outlook of Bharatiya 
sanskriti is integral," and asserted that concepts like "democracy, 
equality, national independence, and world peace are interre- 
lated" that the West had failed to combine and this could only 
be done by Bharatiya sanskriti as it "offers the philosophical 
substratum on the basis of which these concepts can be har- 
monised". The basis of Bharatiya sanskriti are the four 
purushastras of dharma, artha, kama, and moksha and in the Indian 
polity, "absolute sovereignty vests in dharma alone. Since society 
and mankind are guided by the four doctrines, the state is im- 
portant, but not supreme," and the "conception of the ideal state 
of society is stateless and regulated entirely by dharma." The 
understanding and the policies of the Jana Sangh were further 
elaborated in the assertion that "from the Himalayas to Kanya 
Kumari in the south, this entire land of Bharatvarsh has always 
been one and indivisible geographically, culturally and histori- 
cally" . v Vith such an understanding that the reality in the country 
suggests that the "existence of Pakistan not only means a 
separate political identity on Indian soil, it refutes the fact of one 
nationhood and one culture, and is a bid to keep the two-nations, 
two-culture theory alive". 

Given such a backdrop, the Jana Sangh thus dec iared that its 
objective shall be "to end the separation of India and Pakistan 
and bring the t.v’o together" Viewed in totahty from the time 
the Jana Sangh was formed until the present day when the BJP 
is one of the main playwrights in the political theatre of India, 
one basic aim of this political affiliate of the RSS is to undo the 
wrongs that the RSS perceives has been wrought in history. In 
this way it has always been a backward-looking political party 


157 



that harps on the question of interpreting history and has little 
to offer in future except suggesting that once the ^historical 
wrongs" are rectified, the "golden era" of history will stage a 
comeback on its own. 

The formation of the Jana Sangh in 1951 was the outcome of 
a series of manoeuvres undertaken by the RSS leadership to 
prevent the complete marginalisation of the organisation, follow- 
ing the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the subsequent 
ban on the RSS. The RSS, which hsid been in a pivotal position 
at the time of Independence and in the subsequent months when 
its activists were at the forefront of retaliatory attacks on Mus- 
lims, in several parts of north India. The nationalistic image of 
the organisation was bolstered even more by the devotion with 
which the swayamsevaks managed various relief camps where 
refugees from Pakistan came for temporary comfort. At that time 
there were even suggestions that the RSS and the Congress could 
work in tandem with the RSS devoting itself for the cultural 
upliftment of Indians and the Congress continuing as a political 
party. There were however pressures on the RSS leadership for 
a greater political role for the organisation, a view that was not 
shared by Golwalkar who felt that the Congress, because of its 
awesome machinery and elaborate network, was the best vehicle 
for carrying the ideology of the RSS. His approach was to slowly 
take over the ideological basis of the Congress, while others in 
the RSS felt that the organisation should itself be offering a 
political edge. 

But, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948 
Jramaticallychangedthescenario.NathuramGodse,theassassin, 
had been a former member of the RSS, and even though the RSS 
had publicly distanced itself from the liindu Mahasabha for 
Godse was a member of the organisation, in public perception, the 
RSS was equated with the Mahasabha, and held responsible for the 
assassination. What followed were attacks on RSS offices and the 
government was forced to ban the RSS and arrest Golwalkar, 
several other RSS leaders, and about 20,000 swaysonsevaiks. The 

158 



government was unable to prove the complicity of the RSS or any 
of its leaders in the assassination, as a result of which Golwalkar 
and a majority of RSS activists were released on August 5 , 1948. 
Nevertheless, the ban was not lifted and Golwalkar was ordered to 
remain within the municipal limits of Nagpur. For the next few 
months, the basic activity of the RSS leaders was in trying to secure 
the lifting of the ban. Golwalkar started a correspondence with 
Nehru and Patel arguing that since there had been no evidence of 
the RSS's participation in the planning and execution of the assas- 
sination, the ban should be lifted. Golwalkar also shrewdly 
worked on the differences between Patel and Nehru by suggesting 
to Patel that "you with government power and we with organised 
cultural force combined can eliminate this menace (of com- 
munalism)".*^’* 

Nehru did not fall a prey to the arguments of Golwalkar and 
contended that the government had information about the 
violent nature of the RSS, and the anti-national character of the 
organisation. However, Patel had different notions about the 
RSS, and even suggested that the RSS members were free to join 
the Congress to continue with their work. Even as the negotia- 
tions between Golwalkar and the government representatives on 
the question of lifting of the ban continued, pressure was mount- 
ing from within the RSS, to give a political character to the 
organisation. Restrictions on his travel outside Nagpur were 
lifted in Octobe” 1948 as he had to come to Delhi for negotiations, 
but after the discussions ended, he was again placed under arrest 
and taken back to Nagpur. But even then Golwalkar was unwill- 
ing to convert the RSS into a political party arguing that "cultural 
work should be entirely free from political scramble".*’ 
Meanwhile, the RSS also rejected the suggestion mooted by Patel 
that the RSS merge with the Congress and instead, Golwalkar 
directed his associates to resume the activities of the RSS in 
violation of government orders. 

This was the first direct confrontation of the RSS with the 
government and this was given the shape of a civil disobedience 

159 



campaign launched on December 9, 1948 and continued till 
January 20, 1949 when the government indicated that it was 
willing to reconsider the ban order provided the RSS agreed to 
a written constitution. During the entire period of the ban several 
secret meetings were held between Patel and a key RSS leader 
Eknath Ranade. These meeting were often held at the initiative 
of mediators, and one such was held in Mussoorie at the 
residence of G.D. Birla, a leading industrialist. Without fail, Patel 
reiterated his argument that the RSS activists should join the 
Congress and help it to build an organisation base nationwide. 
There a;e also indications that Patel wanted to utilise the RSS in 
his power struggle against Nehru. His calculations were that if 
the RSS merged into the Congress, he would have a significant 
section of the party, that was personally loyal to him alone for 
Nehru had a known antipathy for the RSS. After the suspension 
of the confrontation in January 1949, RSS leaders got busy in 
preparing a draft constitution. 

This job was entrusted to Ranade, Balasaheb Deoras, another 
senior RSS stalwart who would some years later play a decisive 
role in the RSS reclaiming the pivotal position. Golwalkar ap- 
proved the draft, but the government had reservations about it. 
There was no specific rejection of violent means, and the con- 
stitution did not say anywhere that the RSS members believed 
in the Indian Constitution, and the .symbols of the nation. The 
government also felt that the RSS was not democratically struc- 
tured. There were specific complaints regarding the election of 
the sarsanghchalak. Letters were exchanged between Golwalkar 
and Patel, even as the secret negotiations with the Home Minister 
continued. Finally, Ranade, Deendayal Upadhyay a young 
pracharak who later played a crucial role in interpreting the 
ideology of the RSS and an emissary of Patel, re-drafted the 
constitution that was approved by Golwalkar. Finally the ban 
on the RSS was lifted on July 11, 1949 and furthermore it had 
achieved this without diluting either its ideological orientation 
or by altering its rigid organisational structure. This was a point 


160 



that was made by Golwalkar when cifter his release he remarked 
that the RSS "had given up nothing"^” in getting the ban order 
rescinded. 

After the rescinding of the ban, the RSS was keen to make a 
big show and for the next two months Golwalkar undertook an 
extensive tour of the country. Rallies were held everywhere that 
Golwalkar went and the size of the gatherings suggested that 
the RSS still retained some of its support base even though the 
network as a whole had collapsed in the 18 months of the ban. 
Nonetheless, much of the job of the RSS was being done by its 
supporters within the Congress and this was highlighted by a 
resolution of the Congress working committee adopted on Oc- 
tober 7, 1949. The resolution, adopted in Nehru's absence stated 
that the RSS members could join the Congress a.s primary mem- 
bers, if they wished. There was a furore within the Congress and 
the ruling party, as members were still not convinced that the 
RSS had no role to play in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. 
The Congress reversed its decision within a month ruling that 
RSS members could only become members of the Congress 
provided they resigned from the RSS. The concept of dual mem- 
bership was not accepted by the Congress. The dtama over the 
earlier decision of the CWC would be repeated again nearly 
thirty years later when the Janata Party split up on the question 
of dual membership. 

This decision of the CWC however, isolated the RSS and the 
organisation had no option but to think of other ways of playing 
a more interventionist role in India. The RSS also took stock of 
the country, and concluded that in the last few turbulent years 
a large part of thf* 'motherland' had been 'lost' (the creation of 
Pakistan was projected as a loss for the motherland) and the RSS 
was unable to come to terms with it and wanted to reverse this 
process. With the Congress shutting its doors on the RSS, it had 
•.ttle option but to start exploring other options by which it could 
give a political edge to the RSS, and its ideology. 

As a direct result, matters came to a head for the RSS leadership. 


161 



It was under attack from within for having failed to either foresee 
the partition of the country or the ban on the organisation. By the 
end of 1949, the RSS was treated like a pariah, and it found that its 
dream of playing an important role in shaping India's future after 
Independence had been shattered. There were also suggestion 
that the isolation of the RSS could be reversed if the organisation 
chose a political role, a view that was not shared by Golwalkar. 
There was also the added problem of the RSS network having col- 
lapsed during the ban. The organisation had to be rejuvenated, a 
new role had to be devised for the RSS as swayamsevaks were get- 
ting increasingly frustrated, by just participating in shakhas and 
the periodic ideological camps. There was a growing divide be- 
tween the traditionalists within the RSS and those who wanted to 
experiment in the new political order. Finally, a compromise was 
thrashed out and it was decided that while the RSS would continue 
in its old role, it would "loan out" its workers for various activities, 
which could also involve direct politics. 

The Clan Surfaces 

'I’hat was the time when the sangh parivar' began to emerge as 
a large number of affiliates started taking shape. Over the next 
few years pracharaks were instrumental in forming various sec- 
tional organisations. While the formation of the political wing 
will be discussed in detail later, two other crucial affiliates that 
were given a definite character in this period were the Bharatiya 
Mazdoor Sangh and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, to 
operate among workers and students respectively. A crucial role 
in the formative period of the 3MS was played by Dattopant 
Thengadi, who is still the guiding personage of the trade union 
body. Another significant development of this period was the 
realisation by the RSS that the media had a major role to play. 
Thus, the Organiser, which had been started in 1947, a month 
after Mountbatten declared the intention of the colonial power 
to partition the subcontinent, was given a definite character and 

162 



new journals were launched not only !n Hindi, but also in several 
other vernacular languages. Each of these journals is managed 
by an independent trust and even though the members of the 
boards are simyamsemks and pracharaks, the RSS is actually in a 
position to fonnally claim that it has nothing to do with the 
journals. The situation is different from the periodicals published 
by the communist parties which are "official organs" of the par- 
ties. By the time India was declared a Republic in 1950, the 'sangh 
parivar' had started taking definite shape and had begun to 
recover from the setback of the ban. However, the true expanse 
of the RSS family started unveiling only a year later when the 
Jana Sangh was established. 

Ironically, the spearhead of tlje Jana Sangh who, the person who 
was to be the guiding light of the parly in its formative years 
was from outside the RSS fold. Not a member of the 'sangh 
parivar', Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the first president of the fled- 
gling party, had been a former member of the Hindu Mahasabha, 
and a one-time political associate of Nehru. He had quit Inde- 
pendent India's first cabinet where he held the portfolios of 
Industry and Civil Supplies, because of Mookeijee's perception 
that Nehru was not taking a "hard line" against Pakistan, and 
was not ve; / enthusiastic about integrating the Muslim majority 
Kashmir with the rest of India. Mookerjee resigned from the 
cabinet on April 8, i 950, the day the round of talks with Pakistan 
culminated in an agreement, and declared his intention of form- 
ing a new nationalist party. The RSS found an ally in him, and 
over the next few months, the details of the Jana Sangh were 
worked out between Mookerjee and the RSS leadership. The 
decision of the RSS to allow Mookerjee to be the leader of the 
new political formation, was an extension of Golwalkar's well- 
known view that the interests of the RSS would be best served 
if it could utilise either existing organisations, or well known 
leaders to propagate its viewpoint. This would save the RSS the 
additional trouble of projecting and building leaders with a mass 


163 



following. Mookerjee already had a mass following, and a tall 
stature. He did not have an organisation and this was provided 
by the RSS. There was true commonalty of purpose between 
Mookerjee and the RSS, and this led to the formation of the Jana 
Sangh in 1951. 

It is also true though that both the RSS and Mookerjee had 
little option but to come closer and cobble together a new politi- 
cal party. The RSS had virtually no say in national matters after 
the decision of the Congress, to close its doors on the organisa- 
tion. There was also the added pressure from the ranks to chalk 
out a new course of action. Golwalkar was opposed to trans- 
forming the RSS into a political front. There was also little ques- 
tion of associating with the Hindu Mahasabha, after the 
assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Finally, the RSS opted to form 
a political affiliate with the help of an eminent leader. What 
helped in the RSS accepting Mookerjee as the leader of the Jana 
Sangh, was his past association with Hindu politics and his view 
that Nehru was not adopting a strident enough posture against 
Pakistan and was not taking the requisite steps to integrate the 
Muslims in India with the rest of the population. Mookerjee had 
started his political career with the Congress in the 1920s, but 
left the party following differences with the approach of Gandhi. 
He was a member of the state assembly in Bengal as an inde- 
pendent candidate, and joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 
after the release of Savarkar. His stature in the party grew and 
he soon came to be known outside Bengal. When India attained 
Independence, Nehru requested him to join the cabinet because 
of his stature. 

When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, he started distanc- 
ing himself from the Hindu Mahasabha and argued that it should 
become a cultural organisation, and also allow non-Hindus to be- 
come its members. Two weeks after the assassination, the Hindu 
Mahasabha accepted Mookerjee's proposal and declared that it 
would concentrate on "our diverse social, cultural, and religious 
problems for the creation of a powerful and well-organised Hindu 


164 



society"/^ This was just a "tactical manoeuvre"^ for the decision 
was reversed in August 1948 when the Mahasabha decided to 
"resume political activities".^ The working committee of the 
Hindu Mahasabha that reversed the earlier decision however 
declared that the party would be open to non-Hindus, a resolution 
that was again reversed and non-Hindus were denied member- 
ship to the party. Mookerjee resigned from the Hindu Mahasabha, 
and later when relations between India and Pakistan started 
deteriorating, sided with Patel on the differences of opinion with 
Nehru. That was the time when the RSS began their informal dis- 
cussions with him through some of its leaders, one of whom was 
Balraj Madhok, at that time a young pracharak from Jammu and 
one who would later play a controversial role in the Jana Sangh.^^ 
However, even though Mookeijee left the Congress in April 
1950, the Jana Sangh was not formed immediately. Both Gol- 
walkcir and Mookerjee were also closely monitoring the power 
struggle between Nehru and Patel in the Congress. Golwalkar 
had the old fascination for the Congress as a vehicle for the RSS 
ideology, and he sensed that if Patel emerged victorious within 
the Congress, the RSS would have a definite role in the scheme 
of things. Similarly, Mookerjee knew that he would be given a 
suitable position by Patel for the support extended to him in 1949 
and 1950. By the beginning of 1 951 it was becoming increasingly 
clear that Nehru was emerging victorious in the power struggle 
within the Congress. As a result, the RSS and Mookerjee 
redoubled the efforts to form the new party. In the ensuing 
discussions between Golwalkar and Mookeijee, the former 
stressed on two issues: the RSS should be structurally kept away 
from the new party; but the RSS view on nationalism should be 
incorporated into the ideological formation of the new party. 
Mookeijee agreed, but sensed a scepticism in Golwalkar's mind 
and started toying with the idea of forming the party without 
the support of the RSS. Nevertheless, differences were ironed 
out and in May 1951, a group of RSS members met at Jalandhar 
and announced the formation of the state unit of the Jana Sangh* 


165 



Soon units were set up in other states also and on October 21 , 
1951 the first national meeting of the Jana Sangh was held in 
Delhi. While the bulk of the cadre was drawn from the RSS, 
Mookerjee roped in some former Hindu Mahasabha and dissi- 
dent Congressmen into the party fold. He gave a key assignment 
to Mauli Chandra Sharma who had been Patel's emissary when 
the RSS constitution was re-drafted. Another key figure at the 
first meeting was Bhai Mahavir, one of the pracharaks assigned 
by Golwalkar to the Jana Sangh he continued to be an influential 
'elder' in the BJP in the 1980s. The meeting at Delhi also ap- 
pointed a committee to prepare the manifesto for the impending 
general elections. The manifesto, released on October 29, 1950, 
was the blueprint of the new party and the basis of analysing 
the world view of the Jana Sangh when it was formed. 

In its attempt to present itself as a nationalistic party, the Jana 
Sangh was critical of the development model opted for by Nehru. 
The Nehru vian model was chastised as an attempt to "make 
Bharat (an interesting aspect is the reference to India as Bharat 
and Bharatvarsh throughout the manifesto) a carbon-copy of the 
West" The Congress was al^o charged with having "ignored 
and neglected the best in Bharatiya life and ideals" The 
Bharatiya way of life is further elaborated in the manifesto as 
one "which has flown down from the Vedas in an unbroken 
continuity absorbing and assimilating contributions made by 
different people, creeds and cultures that came in touch with it 
in the course of history".^ However, lest there are any feelings 
that the culture of the land is a mix of various traditions brought 
by migrating people from outside the subcontinent, the manifes- 
to categorically stated that "Bharatiya culture is one and in- 
divisible. Any talk of composite culture is unrealistic, illogical 
and dangerous for it tends to weaken national unity and en- 
courages fissiparous tendencies".^ The Jana Sangh's approach 
on Partition was also expanded prior to the rejection of com- 
posite culture: "The recent partition, instead of solving any prob- 


166 



lem, communal or otherwise, has given rise to many new ones. 
Culturally, economically, politically, as well as internationally, 
united India is essential".^’ 

The Jana Sangh made a concerted attempt to demarcate it 
from the Congress, by highlighting the different perceptions of 
the two parties on the most emotive issue of that time: Partition. 
While the Congress was trdng to convince the nation of the need 
to come to terms with the partitioning of the sub-continent, the 
Jana Sangh refused to accept the political reality and argued that 
India's problems would not be settled unless the process was 
reversed. In spite of its views on Partition, the Jana Sangh viewed 
the nation and Indian society as a singular one dominated by 
Bharatiynta which was markedly Hindu in character. The 
majority of Indians were Hindus and their world view made up 
the only stream, the traditions of other communities were not 
recognised by the Jana Sangh. At a political level, the most crucial 
question in the aftermath of Partition was communalism com- 
bined with the related issue of the nature of the secular state that 
India had opted for. The Jana Sangh was emphatic in its rejection 
of the Nehru vian approach to secularism by stating that 
"secularism as currently interpreted, is only an euphemism for 
the policy of Muslim appeasement. 1 he so-called secular com- 
posite nationalism is neither nationalism nor secularism, but only 
a compromise with communalism of those who demand price 
even for their lip-lcyalty to this country".*“’The last part of the 
argument makes it ciear that at the time of its formation, the Jana 
Sangh was sceptical of scepticism about the patriotism of Indian 
Muslims, who had refused to make Islamic Pakistan their 
country. The Jana Sangh was clear that India had to be "rebuilt" 
and if the party got the chance it would do so on the "basis of 
Bharatiya sanskriti and maryada” 

After establishing itself as a Hindu nationalist party, the Jana 
Sangh manifesto promised the electorate specifically that India 
would pull out of the Commonwealth. It argued that "in view 
of the fact that Bharat has not in any way benefited by remaining 


167 



in the Commonwealth and because the United Kingdom has 
been pursuing a policy ot partiality towards Pakistan, the whole 
question needs to be re-examined" As far as Pakistan was 
concerned, the manifesto expressed that as "long as Pakistan 
remains a separate entity, the party will stand for a strict policy 
of reciprocity, and not one of appeasement".*^ The Jana Sangh 
also argued that the Congress government had been too soft 
towards Pakistan an argument that was an extension of the 
debate within the government. This led to Mookerjee's decision 
to part company with the Congress and form a separate Hindu 
nationalistic party. This aggressive posture was also evident in 
expressing the party's position on the tricky issue of Kashmir's 
integration in the country. The Jana Sangh demcinded that the 
reference made to the United Nations be withdrawn, and "there 
should be no further question of plebiscite".*^ The manifesto 
outlined that the Jana Sangh was totally against giving any spe- 
cial status to Kashmir and that it should be "integrated with 
Bharat like other acceding states".*'’ 

The Jana Sangh was in favour of "economic and administra- 
tive decentralisation",** an approach that the later 'avatar' of the 
Jana Sangh felt was largely^responsible for the growth of fis- 
siparous tendencies. The Jana Sangh addressed itself primarily 
to the Hindi heartland in India by declaring that it would "work 
for the early adoption of Hindi as an all-India language,"*^ and 
the "adoption of 'Devanagari' script and a common technical 
terminology derived mainly from Sanskrit". Sanskrit was termed 
as the "repository of Bharatiya culture and the source and 
mainstay of all Indian languages".** Clearly, the Jana Sangh 
refused to accept Urdu, with Persian roots, as a language, that 
had a role to play in independent India. Furthermore, it also 
declared that it was in favour of a total ban on the slaughter of 
cows. Whether it was in relation to the question of vulture, or 
language, the basis of Indian nationalism, according to the Jana 
Sangh, was solely Hindu. Other traditions could coexist, but only 
after accepting merging with the mainstream. The facade 


168 



projected by the Jana Sangh different from the Congress model, 
and in this it dismissed the legacy of colonialism. Whereas Nehru 
was modelling modem India along the lines Western liberalism, 
and the Jana Sangh considered this an anathema. However, they 
were as yet unclear regarding the nature of the alternative model. 
The Jana Sangh disagreed with Nehru's emphasis on the public 
sector arguing that it war in favour of the public sector only in 
the crucial defence sector. As for other industries, they argued 
that "state ownership has not worked efficiently and economi- 
cally in this country. Unlimited state capitalism may also lead to 
totalitarianism",*’ The Jana Sangh, when it was floated, aimed 
at addressing itself directly to the people who felt that the sub- 
continent had been partitioned because the Muslims had been 
given too much political liberty. They argued that independent 
India would fail to prosper unless the Hindu-Muslim conflict 
was decisively settled in favour of the Hindus. The Jana Sangh's 
arguments were also aimed at those people who were nostalgic 
for the utopian golden ages and felt that the model of Western 
liberalism as opted for by India would not take it forward. They 
felt that to move ahead, India must return to the Hindu tradition 
stemming from the Vedas and other scriptures. 

Wide Off 1 he Mark 

As it transpired, the arguments and the approach of the Jana 
Sangh did not hold much water with the electorate in the general 
elections of 1952 as it gave a massive mandate to Nehm. The 
party only managed to win three of the 92 parliamentary seats 
contested and 35 of the 725 assembly seats. The Jana Sangh, 
however, received as much as 3.06 per cent of the poll in the 
parliamentary elections, a tally that ensured its recognition as a 
national party. Portentious indications of the Janf- Sangh's future 
strongholds were also to be seen. In Delhi, the party had con- 
tested three of the four seats and its candidates secured a total 
25.93 per cent of. the votes cast. In Himachal Pradesh, they 

169 



garnered 13.66 per cent, a significant 7.29 per cent in Uttar 
Pradesh where it fielded candidates in 41 of the 86 constituencies. 
Its performance in Madhya Pradesh was also indicative of the 
future growth of the party in the state it received 5.92 per cent 
of the total votes cast. Of the three parliamentary seats that the 
Jana Sangh won, two were from West Bengal, and the remciining 
one was from Rajasthan. This was the only time that the Jana 
Sangh, or its later avatar managed to win a parliamentary seat 
from West Bengal but in 1952 the success of the party in the state 
stemmed primarily from Mookerjee's stature. In the simul- 
taneous elections for the state assemblies, the Jana Sangh won 
11 seats in Rajasthan, 9 in West Bengal, 6 in Madhj^a Pradesh 
and 5 in Delhi. The results of the 1952 elections would have a 
great bearing on the future of the sangh parivar because it un- 
doubtedly showed that the RSS and its affiliates were still suf- 
fering from association with the assassination of Mahatma 
Gandhi. The RSS was nowhere near the pivotal position it had 
held on the eve of Independence. 

Nevertheless, the poor show in the general elections, did not 
affect Mookerjee. He was quick to start lobbying among various 
independently elected parliajnentarians arguing that there was 
a need to form a joint opposition bloc in Parliament to prevent 
Nehru from having total sway. His efforts bore fruit when 32 
members of Parliament joined hands with the Jana Sangh to form 
the National Democratic Front. These MPs were invited to the 
first annual session of the Jana Sangh held at Kanpur in Decem- 
ber 1952. A significant appointment at this meeting was that of 
Deendayal Upadhyay, a young RSS pracharak who was "loaned 
to the Jana Sangh"‘'‘’as its general secretary. This was the begin- 
ning of the RSS seizing control of the organisational machinery 
of the Jana Sangh as the other general secretary Mauli Chandra 
Sharma, was outside the RSS fold. At this meeting, the Jana 
Sangh also decided to opt for an agitational course on the Kash- 
mir issue. Contacts were established with the regional Kashmiri 
party, Praja Parishad, also supported by the RSS. Mookerjee 


170 



established a national committee to campaign in favour of total 
integration of the state into India, and as a part of the agitation 
entered Kashmir on May 11, 1953. The government responded 
by promptly arresting him. Mookerjee died from a cardiac arrest 
in prison on June 23, 1953, and the Jana Sangh was quick to term 
his death as murder. Suddenly, the Jana Sangh was rudderless 
as the RSS had no leader of stature who could succeed Mookerjee 
as party president. 

The Jana Sangh again had to look towards West Bengal to 
provide its leadership. N.C. Chatterjee, a close Mend of Mooker- 
jee was requested by the Jana Sangh, to fill the void he had left. 
Chatteqee was president of the Hindu Mahasabha and a member 
of the National Democratic Front in Parliament. Jana Sangh 
leaders both from the RSS fold and outside it met with Chatterjee 
and requested him to take over the Jana Sangh presidency. Un- 
fortunately, Chatterjee had to seek the permission of the Hindu 
Mahasabha and Savarkar refused to grant permission as he was 
still incensed over the attitude of Golwalkar in the 1940s. Unable 
to rope in any political leader with a national stature, the Jana 
Sangh general council met at Allahabad in August 1953 and 
elected Mauli Chandra Sharma as the interim president. With 
Sharma's elevation the party organisation was placed in the 
hands of Upadhyay and with this the RSS came to have organisa- 
tional control over the Jana Sangh for the first time since its 
inception. This control by the RSS over the political affiliates 
would remain till tne merger of the Jana Sangh into the Janata 
Party. It would later resurface in the BJP after its decision to opt 
for the Jana Sangh legacy instead of JP's heritage. 

Sharma was viewed with suspicion by the RSS cadre yet they 
had to accept him ta llowing their failure to locate a leader with 
a national stature to head the party. Operationally, the Jana 
Sangh was unable to resolve the differing styles of functioning 
between Upadhyay and Sharma and matters came to a head 
when Sharma rejected the former list of nominees to the party 
working committee preferring some of his allies. The clashes 


171 



continued within the party and by the time the general council 
of the Jana Sangh met in Indore in August 1954, it was clear that 
a parting of the ways between Sharma and the traditionalists 
within the party, was inevitable. The snowballing crisis reached 
a crisis point in November 1954 at the working committee meet- 
ing in Delhi. Sharma was expelled and a senior RSS leader, S.A. 
Sohoni, was appointed interim president. The Organiser 
mounted a scathing attack on Sharma, but the Jana Sangh was 
nowhere near locating a leader of national stature to head it. In 
December 1954, the plenary session of the party elected Prem 
Nath Dogra, an RSS pracharak and founder of the Praja Parishad 
in Kashmir as its president. This lead to several members not in 
the RSS fold, parting company with the Jana Sangh, and forming 
a new party. However, in the elections in 1957, the splintered 
party fared even more miserably than the Jana Sangh who only 
managed negligible improvement by winning just four of the 
130 parliamentary seats it contested, and 51 of the 606 assembly 
constituencies where it had fielded candidates. 

The party organisation, now being managed by RSS 
traditionalists with Upadhyay spearheading it, was being run in 
a professional style, and thi^ was making its impact felt. The 
party garnered a greater percentage of votes in 1957 than in 1952, 
and this trend continued in 1962 also when the Jana Sangh won 
14 parliamentary seats, and 119 assembly constituencies. Its 
share of votes also rose from 5.93 per cent to 6.44 per cent be- 
tween 1957 and 1962. But the RSS and its affiliates were however, 
nowhere near playing the kind of decisive role in shaping na- 
tional policies, that it had wished for after Independence. Nehru 
was at the helm of affairs and the main threat to the Congress 
came from the Communist Party, which won the the state as- 
sembly elections in Kerala in 1957, and led to the formation of 
the first ever elected communist government. 

With the deteriorating relations between India and China, the 
situation, began improving for the RSS and its affiliates. The com- 
munists found themselves on the defensive. The other opposition 


172 



parties joined forces against V.K. Krishna Menon, Nehru's 
Defence Minister; and managed to defeat him in aby-election from 
Bombay. A highpoint for the RSS, came in January 1%3, when the 
organisation was invited to participate in the Republic Day 
celebrations. With patriotism a crucial issue in the aftermath of the 
Indo-China war of 1962, the situation was tailor-made for the RSS 
to project its ideology. Inclusion in the Republic Day parade ac- 
corded respectability to an organisation, still viewed with 
suspicion. The RSS brigade turned up in its uniform replete with 
the RSS band and this participation was publicised by the or- 
ganisation all over the country. The political situation in India al- 
tered greatly between the 1962 general elections and the one held 
in 1967. Nehru and Lai Bahadur Shastri, who had succeeded the 
former, had died and the Congress was led by Indira Gandhi and a 
conglomerate of traditional Congressmen, who thought that they 
could dictate terms to Indira Gandhi. The country had also seen 
two wars that had greatly hampered the economy. The Jana Sangh 
was at the forefront of the demand that India sever diplomatic ties 
with China, and should vote against its entry to the United Na- 
tions. The Jana Sangh also started preparing for the general elec- 
tions well in advance by honing its organisation. Balraj Madhok, a 
RSS traditionalist, was appointed parly president, an indication 
that the Jana Sangh was no longer pursuing the post-Mookerjee 
policy of figurehead presidents. Prior to this, the Jana Sangh at its 
12th plenary session in Vijayawada in January 1965, adopted its 
policy resolutions. Upadhyay's concept of Integral Humanism 
had by then become the cornerstone of the Jana Sangh's ideology. 

Imparting Hindu Image 

Between the years 1954 to 1967, the Jana Sangh had given a 
sharper edge to its Hindu nationalistic image. In an amendment 
to its manifesto of 1952, the party emphatically stated that the 
"Jana Sangh is not prepared to recognise English or Urdu as 
Indian languages. Furthermore, it would take every step to 

173 



remove Urdu from the list of languages recognised in the Con- 
stitution".^’ This was also the year when the concept of Akhand 
Bharat (undivided India) was first accepted by the Jana Sangh as 
its official policy. The new manifesto said: " 'Akhand Bharat' is 
an article of faith with the Jana Sangh. So long as Pakistan exists, 
instead of the policy of appeasement, the Jana Sangh would 
adopt a policy of reciprocity. It will press for the establishment 
of a modern democratic state in Pakistan and if any part of 
Pakistan wants to establish relations with Bharatvarsh, the Jana 
Sangh would welcome it".^“ The image of the Jana Sangh was 
given sharper teeth during the 1957 general elections. In the 
manifesto released that year, the Jana Sangh called for "compul- 
sory military training for all young men,"^^ and also said that 
their party shall "prepare the country physically and psychologi- 
cally for self-defence" By 1957 it was clear that the Jana Sangh 
would continue with the perception of the RSS, namely that the 
enemy was not just in Pakistan, but also lay in the large sections 
of Muslims who had stayed back in India. 

"Psychological" warfare thus was necessary and this would 
be done by "nationalising all non-Hindus by inculcating in them 
the ideal of Bharatiya culture."’*'* Bharatiya culture has earlier 
been spelt out and it has little, or nothing in fact, that is non- 
Hindu in character. The manner of inculcating Bharatiya culture 
is indicated in the manifesto of 1 962 next general elections, where 
it states the party would "evolve a new educational pattern 
which would blend our ancient Gurukul modes with modern 
methods."’^ However, the Jana Sangh was also quick to realise 
that Hindu society was itself not a singular one, with several 
schisms between various castes. The caste system in fact was 
recognised as an impediment to the growth of Hindu solidarity 
and the Jana Sangh pledged that it would strive to create a 
"feeling of equality and oneness in Hindu society by liquidating 
untouchability and casteism". I’he realisation that Hindus can 
not be moulded into a composite political group while caste 
divisions still exist, has been assessed by the RSS and its affiliates 


174 



time and again and proved correct, in the early 1990s, when 
attempts to make job reservations on the basis of caste led to 
major ruptures in Hindu society, and almost upset the apple cart 
of the advocates of the Hindutva idea. 

The charges against the Congress government in 1967 were 
fairly predictable: "Both communist China and Pakistan are in 
illegal occupation of large areas of Indian territory. The Congress 
government has never cared to free them."’^ Defence was con- 
sidered a priority area and the jana Sangh called for a change in 
the defence and foreign policies. It promised that the party 
would: 

1) increase the strength of the services, 

2) constitute a "vast territorial army," 

3) introduce military training in all colleges for two years, and 

4) develop defence industries.’* 

However, the most significant of the promises was the resolve 
to "manufacture nuclear weapons and missiles".” The Jana 
Sangh also declared that every citizen of the country should have 
the right to carry arms. 

The manifesto of 1967 also proposed that "there are forces in 
the country which are working as fifth columnists of the enemies. 
They should be put down with a firm hand. The Jana S 2 mgh will 
enact a bw of treason".*®® The party also claimed that the 
"present Constitution does not manifest the country's basic 
unity,"^®* and that the party shall amend it "and declare India a 
Unitary State." A Uniform Civil Code would be enacted and the 
Jana Sangh's vision ot India became more rigid with the decla- 
ration that "restriction would be imposed on the activities of 
foreign missionaries". The 1967 manifesto was the most com- 
prehensive one since the party's inception and it dwelt at great 
length on economic issues, besides promising that "swadeshi 
and self-reliance" shall be the guiding principles of the economic 
approach of the Jana Sangh. The Jana Sangh projected itself as 
an alternative to the Congress as it was a party that had "sound 
principles, clear policies, a definite programme, roots deep in the 


175 



soil, and a country-wide organisation which has a cadre of 
devoted, selfless and disciplined workers".^®® 

Besides the issues raised by the two wars, corruption, fac- 
tionalism and economic problems, were the key issues in 1967. 
The ruling party was fractured as Indira Gandhi was yet to come 
into her own, and the emerging syndicate was keen to control 
her actions and decisions. The strength of the Congress in the 
Lok Sabha was reduced dramatically, while the Jana Sangh per- 
formance bettered the expectation of even party leaders. Its 
strength in Parliament grew from 14 to 35 and the number of 
assembly seats increased to 261 from 119 in the last hustings. 
The percentage of votes also increased correspondingly 9.44 per 
cent in the parliamentary and 8.80 in the assembly elections. The 
Jana Sangh's biggest success was in Delhi where it emerged as 
the majority party in the elections for the two local bodies, bag- 
ging 52 of the 100 MCD seats and 33 of the 56 Metropolitan 
Council seats. 

The Jana Sangh was quick to assess the new politicalscenario 
in the country where the Congress did not have a majority in 
several states for the first time since Independence. The Jana 
Sangh joined the united front govemments in the states of Uttar 
Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. The RSS 
agreed with the decision because it felt that the coalition govern- 
ment might result in "mutual harmony among various political 
parties as envisaged by the 'sangh.' " However, this decision 
posed internal problems for the party, as Balraj Madhok argued 
that the party had committed a serious mistake by joining a 
government that had communists as a coalition partner. He also 
managed to get the support of Golwalkar, but the majority view 
prevailed, as several members of the party sensed the benefits 
of being in power for the first time in their political careers. Atal 
Behari Vajpayee, who had been one of the national secretaries 
since 1955 and was the leader of the Jana Sangh parliamentary 
party, emerged as a significant "voice of the left" within the 
party, and he argued in favour of tactical decisions like joining 


176 



the coalition governments. Even though Upadhyay was general- 
ly suspicious of the communists, he fell in line with Vajpayee's 
argument, primarily because he agreed principally with the tac- 
tical alliance argument and also because he sensed the charis- 
matic appeal of Vajpayee a fact that Upadhyay could not ignore 
as the Jana Sangh had not been able to project any leader of 
national stature, since the death of Mookeijee. 

What followed was a virtual repeat of the factional clashes 
witnessed during 1954-1955. Madhok was opposed to the tactical 
line and did not hide his disenchantment at the "leftward turn" 
of the Jana Sangh. Matters came to a head in late 1967, when he 
indicated that he wanted to run for presidency of the party. Even 
the core group felt that Upadhyay should move to that position 
as the party organisation had consolidated its base, and many 
felt that the party should prepare itself for a protracted power 
struggle which could be successfully managed only if there was 
ideological and personal cohesion at the top of the party hierar- 
chy. A marginalised Madhok started working in tandem with 
several leaders of the right wing Swatantra Party and even filed 
a petition in the Supreme Court against Indira Gandhi's populist 
decision to nationalise banks. Unlike the differences within the 
Jana Sangh in the 1950s, the crisis in the late 1960s was more 
acute as all contenders were from the RSS fold. This also raised 
the spectre of a vertical split right through the entire sangh 
parivar, was averted by a series of manoeuvres by the top RSS 
leadership. 

Meanwhile a fresh crisis gripped the Jana Sangh in February 
1968 when Upadhyay was found dead in a train in Mughal Sarai, a 
major railway junction in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The Jana 
Sangh alleged that it was a case of political murder. The sympathy 
wave among the cadre helped Vajpayee emerge as the political 
heir of Upadhyay, and he was elevated to the position of party 
president. By the end of the 1960s it appeared that Indira Gandhi 
was planning for mid-term elections following the split in the Con- 
gress. Negotiationsbegan for forming a political alliance to defeat 


177 



Indira Gandhi. However, differences again arose within the Jana 
Sangh when Madhok argued in favour of a merger with other con- 
servative parties, while Vajpayee and others were in favour of an 
electoral alliance. Discussions continued for long, and finally on 
January 25, 1971 leaders of the Jana Sangh, Congress(O), 
Swatantra Party and the Samyukta Socialist Party announced the 
formation of a "grand alliance". There was little ideological 
similarity in these four parties. What united them was there fer- 
vent wish to defeat Indira Gandhi. 

However, the Jana Sangh did not benefit from the "grand 
alliance" as its share of votes went down from 9.41 per cent in 
1967 to 7.35 per cent in 1971. The number of its parliamentary 
seats also slipped from 35 to 22. Indira Gandhi was voted to 
power with a comfortable majority as she gained in stature fol- 
lowing the war with Pakistan and the liberation of Bangladesh. 
There was sharp criticism of the leadership at the general council 
meeting of the Jana Sangh in Jaipur, but this did not halt the 
downward slide of the party. The cadres felt that the^leadership 
had erred by depending heavily on unreliable electoral allies. 
With Indira Gandhi's political eiscenl there was little that the Jana 
Sangh leadership could d6 to stall Congress victory in the as- 
sembly elections in 16 states, and two Union territories in 1972. 
The Jana Sangh suffered electoral reverses, most notable being 
in Delhi where it lost majority in the local bodies. 

The elections of 1971 and 1972 are significant because for the 
first time the Jana Sangh coined a word that would in the 1980s 
and 1990s, become a key 'concept' for the advocates of the Hin- 
dutva idea. The word 'pseudo-secularism',’®^ has been used with 
increasing frequency by BJP leaders since the late 1980s when- 
ever it argued that the temple agitation was not restricted to 
building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, but was a "part of a wider 
struggle against the forces of pseudo-secularism". In the election 
manifesto of 1971, the Jana Sangh declared that the party "fully 
subscribes to the ancient ideal of the non-communal state" 
However, the part}' was prompt in adding that it "rejects the 


178 



pseudo-secularism that combines irreligion with appeasement. 
We would like followers of all religions to accept the Indian ideal 
of sarmdharma-samhkavoT By the early 1970s it became clear 
that the Jana Sangh had not diluted the approach of the RSS that 
India was primarily Hindu in character and that people profess- 
ing other religions were welcome to stay in the country provided 
they accepted and merged with the Hindu traditions. This posi- 
tion of the Jana Sangh, viewed in the context of a resolution on 
education adopted by the party in 1960, at the VIII All India 
Session of the party, provides an explanation to the BJP decision 
in 1991 to alter the curriculum in the schools in the four states 
governed by the party. The resolution stated that "to give moral 
and national content to education, the curricula and the courses 
of study should be so recast that they help the students to obtain 
a comprehensive grounding in our national heritage, culture and 
values of life together with a healthy understanding and respect 
for the great national heroes in all walks of life".’®^ 

The Jana Sangh continued with its policy of the late 1960s, of 
giving a populist edge to its policies and programmes. The 
leadership was conscious of the criticism by its cadre that the 
Jana Sangh was being perceived as a party of the rich, because 
of its association with extreme rightist parties like the Swatantra 
Party. At a crucial party session in Bhagalpur in 1972, the Jana 
Sangh decided to concentrate on building new bases among the 
landless labour, lower castes, industrial workers and students. 
The populist thrust continued for the next few months and it 
was given a new direction in Jemuary 1973, v/hen the plenary 
session of the party was held in Kanpur. 

At this meeting Vajpayee was replaced by Lai Krishna Ad- 
vani, a former RSS pracharak who had migrated from Sindh 
during Partition. Advani had made his mark during his tenure 
as Speaker of the Delhi Metropolitan Council. Several front or- 
gemisations of the Jana Sangh also scheduled their meeting at the 
same time and one of the first decisions that Advani took as 
president was to resolve the long-simmering dispute between 


179 



Madhok and the rest of the party leadership. He despatched a 
letter to Madhok detailing the instances when he had publicly 
differed with the party policy, and asked him to apologise to the 
leadership. Madhok contended that the dispute should be 
referred to Golwalkar, but Advani argued that there was no need 
to refer the matter to the RSS brass, because they would "em- 
phasise the importance of discipline and collective functioning". 
Madhok was expelled and he charged that the Jana Sangh was 
being dominated by the RSS and that he had been victimised 
because he did not want leaders based in Nagpur to have total 
control on the party. Madhok went on to form another party 
which failed to make much headway, and accused the Jana 
Sangh of being influenced by communists. He highlighted 
Vajpayee's association with the communist movement early in 
his political career, he had been a member of the All India 
Students' Federation, an affiliate of the Communist Party of 
India. 

Parting of ways with Madhok did not deter the Jana Sangh 
from pursuing populist policies, especially since the Indian 
electorate's euphoria with Indira Gandhi appeared to be 
evaporating as prices of essential commodities escalated. By late 
1973, there were indications of a protest movement when Jai 
Prakash Narain started his campaign for "total revolution". The 
RSS was quick to seize the potential of the movement and 
decided to control the direction of the agitation, by positioning 
some of its key leaders in pivotal positions. This was also the 
time when Balasaheb Deoras, general secretary of the RSS since 
the mid-1960s, was appointed sarsanghchalak after the death of 
Golwalkar. Deoras preferred a more activist role for the RSS and 
its affiliates than his predecessor. This was evident in the fact 
that a large number of swayamsevaks also played an active role 
in the formative period of the agitation, which finally forced 
Indira Gandhi to declare Internal Emergency in June 1975. In 
fact, the majority of activists in JP's campaign were drawn from 
the student affiliate of the RSS, the ABVP. By late 1974, the Jana 


180 



Sangh had worked in tandem with three other opposition parties 
Samyukta Socialist Party, Congress (O), and Bharatiya Lok Dal 
to form the National Coordination Committee to assist JP's 
movement. Shortly thereafter, Deoras spoke in laudatory terms 
about JP at a public meeting in Delhi. In return, JP complimented 
the RSS and also asserted that the Jana Sangh was not a fascist 
organisation. 

In spite of the setbacks in the elections of 1971 and 1972, the 
Jana Sangh did not abandon the policy of forging a united front 
against Indira Gandhi. The events of 1975 were dramatic: Mrs 
Gandhi's election to Parliament was declared null and void by 
the High Court of Allahabad, and even as JP and other opposi- 
tion leaders mounted am attack on her. Internal Emergency was 
declared. Several opposition leaders were arrested and the RSS 
was banned because of its active assistance to JP's agitation. 
Deoras was arrested on June 30, 1975 but this time the RSS was 
not isolated like in 1948, and had formed a close working 
relationship with other opposition parties. Even as the govern- 
ment launched the crackdown on the RSS, its members openly 
associated with the opposition front, and throughout the Emer- 
gency, remained active through underground networking. RSS 
activists met each other throughout the Emergency, by organis- 
ing prayi’r meetings and holding sporting events. When the 
Emergency was lifted, the RSS gave all out support to the Janata 
Front, formed by the opposition parties, and in the elections, 
ensured the defeat of Indira Gandhi. Unlike the earlier occasions, 
the RSS emerged stronger after the second ban on its activities. 
When the Janata government was sworn in, the RSS had for the 
first time a Union government that was indebted to it and one 
of its affiliates was a partner in the government. 

By the time the dual membership issue came out in the open 
and caused fissures in the ranks of the Janata Party, the RSS had 
.consolidated its gains and, as earlier mentioned, had sidestepped 
politics and begun working through other affiliates, most notably 
the VHP. The p:focess of consolidation continued througjiout the 


181 



early 1980s even as the newly formed BJP stumbled. The RSS 
had gained respectability — by associating with the opposition 
parties in their agitation against Indira Gandhi and it was not 
keen to lose this new found respectability which is why when 
the dual membership issue rocked the Janata government, it 
assiduously refrained from getting embroiled in the dispute. 
However, the BJP was to realise its folly of tr 3 dng to project the 
legacy of JP after its humiliating defeat in the 1984 elections. By 
1986 , however, issues had been resolved and the BJP returned 
within the 'family fold' and this was best underlined by the 
appointment of Advani as president in place of Vajpayee. After 
this it was simply a matter of time and a question of astute moves 
on the part of the the RSS and its affiliates, before it would come 
to have a stranglehold on Indian polity. There was also the added 
advantage of other political forces underestimating the RSS clan, 
and forming political alliances with the BJP to give it greater 
political credibility. 



CHAPllR 5 


Nyayakand 




"How mil you justify yourself? 

You struck me from behind 
Like a snake a sleeping man 
And you are the earth's protector! 

You can no more protect the earth". 

Vali to Ram after being shot by him in the 
Ramayan's Kishkindakand 

It was a motley group that assembled in the famed Constitution 
Club in the capital city of Delhi in the first week of July, 1993. 
They were academicians, lawyers, human rights activists, and 
many others from diverse fields. But most importantly, there 
were several people from Ayodhya. They were both Hindus and 
Muslims, and some of them were 'servants of God'. These people 
had come irom the temple-town to depose before the Citizens' 
Tribunal on Ayodhya.’ The Tribunal heard the witnesses and 
other experts after having perused the report presented to it by 
the Commission of Inquiry, headed by a retired former chief 
secretary of the government of the state of Bihar. The Commis- 
sion was appointed by three judges Justice O. Chinappa Reddy, 
Justice D.A. Desai, and Justice D.S. Tewatia, all of whom had 
retired from the Supreme and High Courts some years ago. The 
Citizens' Tribunal had been formed in February 1993 by several 
non-governmental organisations. The independent |x)dy 
declared on its formation that it would "extend its scope of 
investigation and evaluation, beyond that of existing govern- 
ment appointed . commissions," established by the Union 

185 



government after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The 
Tribunal noted that India had been "born out of a partition" emd 
though this had been accompanied by the worst communal con- 
flicts ever witnessed in the country, the "Indian nation state 
resisted all pressures to turn itself into a majority-ruled 'Hindu 
Rashtra' and opened its doors to members of all religious faiths 
and ideologies". However, the demolition of the Babri Masjid 
and the events in its aftermath had "posed certain serious ques- 
tions" regarding the issue of whether "democratic rights and 
secular beliefs guaranteed by the Constitution," were now being 
threatened in India. The Tribunal also stated that it wanted to 
find out if some political forces were "subverting the spirit of 
federalism of our Constitution, by abusing the rights granted to 
the states under the Seventh Schedule, as evident from the role 
of the state government of Uttar Pradesh" during the develop- 
ments in Ayodhya. 

The Tribunal framed its terms of reference, and declared that 
it would determine the extent to which the denv>cratic and 
secular foundations of India had been violated by the demolition 
of the Babri Masjid and the events preceding and following it. 
The Iribunal also decided' to identify the "perpetrators of this 
violation" and make positive suggestions, which would aid in 
restoring the secular and democratic values. The Tribunal also 
stated that it would attempt to find out the "ways and means 
by which the institutions of the State and society, will prevent 
such violations in future". 

Though the Tribunal had no legal status and its verdict would 
not be binding on either those found guilty or any of the State 
institutions, it was nonetheless of considerable importance be- 
cause of its status as a parallel judicial body. Tribunals have had 
a long tradition in India. One of the earliest being the tribunal 
formed at the initiative of Mahatma Gandhi, to probe the firing 
led by General Dyer of the British army, on the peaceful crowd 
in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. In the aftermath of the demoli- 
tion of the Babri Masjid, a Tribunal was also set up in Bombay 


186 



by some non-govemmental organisations, to investigate the na- 
ture of rioting in the city in January. While previous tribunals 
delivered significant verdicts, the Tribunal on Ayodhya was of 
greater significance. This was the first judicial attempt, albeit 
independent, and without government sanction, to speedily hear 
the grievances of the Muslims of Ayodhya and those other sec- 
tions of society, that had been wronged by the advocates of the 
Hindutva idea. Through its partisan methods, and by refusing 
to take a categorical position on the Ayodhya dispute, the 
judiciary had been as much responsible as other wings of the 
State machinery, for prolonging the Ayodhya dispute. The con- 
troversy surrounding the mosque-temple dispute, highlighted 
"how the courts have been used to further narrow communal 
interests". 

The "delay in the judicial process" contributed to the com- 
munalisation of Indian polity. The formation of the Citizens' 
Tribunal was the first positive development for the residents of 
Ayodhya as Ihey had witnessed the protracted legal imbroglio. 
What added to the historical significance of the Tribunal's hear- 
ing was the fact that it was not reduced to a distanced legal 
probe, but the three judge.s heard a plethora of views, and 
evaluated the evidence that had been presented before it by the 
Commission of Inquiry and the testimonies of other witnesses. 
The judgment of the Tribunal, though not having any legal sanc- 
tion, has significant historical importance, eventually when the 
epitaph of Nehru vian India is written the Tribunal's verdict will 
come ill handy for analysing the turbulent decades of 1980s and 
1990s. 

The witnesses that deposed before the Tribunal were a mixed 
lot. They included people from Ayodhya who testified that "even 
after the imposition of Presidents' Rule on the evening of Decem- 
ber 6, 1992 evening, Muslim residents were physically assaulted, 
many brutally murdered, and their houses looted". The wit- 
nesses were not just Muslims but also included Hindus including 
the editor of a loqal weekly. Lai Das, the Hindu priest who used 


187 



to manage the affairs inside the Babri Masjid till the BJP govern- 
ment dismissed him, testified that the idols which had been 
installed were first removed from the shrine under attack, and 
later they "disappeared altogether". The witnesses from Ayod- 
hya said that there were two categories of kar sevaks one group 
which demolished the Babri Masjid and the other which led 
attacks on the Muslims of Ayodhya. Journalists who reported 
the demolition of the mosque also deposed before the Tribunal 
and claimed that the action was premeditated. The journalists 
gave "detailed accounts of preparatory activities and high level 
meetings" that took place among leaders of the RSS clan before 
the demolition. Another deposition, which contradicted the posi- 
tion adopted by the BJP, was that of the editor of a Faizabad- 
based daily newspaper. The editor stated that a telephone 
operator had partially heard the conversation between L.K. Ad- 
vani and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh on Decem- 
ber 6 around 2.30 p.m. The witness stated that during the 
conversation Advani was asked whether the Chief Minister 
should resign. The reply of the BJP leader was: "No, not till the 
demolition is completed". While the report of the Commission 
of Inquiry, and the depositions of the witnesses from Ayodhya 
and other eye witnesses to the demolition, tried to prove that 
the demolition was a premeditated act and that the Union 
government and other wings of the state machinery failed in 
their job to protect the shrine, the testimonies of some expert 
witnesses highlighted the broader issues that have surfaced in 
the course of the Ayodhya agitation. 

Two scholars deposed before the Tribunal about how the RSS 
clan was "trying to communalise the Dalit community," and that 
it was doing so by using "false rumours to mobilise Dalits against 
Muslims" and were seeking to "win over Dalits by trying to 
incorporate Ambedkar as a Hindu reformer, ignoring his disil- 
lusionment with Hinduism and the caste system". The scholars 
also deposed that the state government of Maharashtra, had not 
in discharged its constitutional obligations by failing to arrest 


188 



Bal Thackeray and prevent the activities of the Shiv Sena. 
Another eminent political scientist who had been in the forefront 
of of a section of the Muslin^ intelligentsia, who wanted to ar- 
ticulate a separate voice for the community as distinct from the 
assertions of Muslim politicians, deposed before the Tribunal on 
how the RSS clan was "damaging Hinduism with its plural tradi- 
tions". He also contended that the Muslims who had started 
emerging from its earlier position of isolation had been once 
again "pushed back into a frightened isolation" by the events 
leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Another scholar, 
a Christian theological expert, told the Tribunal that the events 
of December 6 had shaken the faith of the people of India in the 
secular bonafides of the State. There were two other scholars 
who deposed that the RSS clan had started communalising 
children through the children's magazines, and other activities 
like quiz competitions. They stated that the communalisation of 
the children was being done through a network of schools 
managed by the RSS clan. History text books that were changed 
by the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh also came in for evalua- 
tion in the deposition. In one of the books "one page dealing 
with Gandhiii's life and work during the national movement" 
had been taken out and replaced with "two pages on Hedgewar's 
'contribution in the National Movement". 

The Tribunal before initiating the hearing sent missives to the 
leaders of the RSS clan and the Union government officials, 
holding them guilty for the demolition of the Babri Masjid and 
communalising Indian polity. However, barring the general 
secretary of the RSS and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, 
the students wing of the RSS, none of the others charged with 
the action in Ayodhya bothered to respond. Even the two who 
replied, questioned the status of the Tribunal and stated that the 
exercise was "anti-RSS," saying that the organisation did not f^l 
it "either important or necessary to respond" to the letter of the 
Tribunal, as they did not "recognise the so-called" Tribunal. Even 
though the hearing of the Tribunal was little beyond an ex parte 


189 



hearing, it did not reduce the historical significance of the initia- 
tive especiaUy at a time when the Union government's official 
Commission of Inquiry had made little headway, and the report 
appeared to be doomed to gather dust like numerous other 
government reports. The Supreme Court continued to prevari- 
cate on the sensitive issue, and there was no speedy response to 
the Union government's decision to seek a judicial opinion on 
the limited fact about whether there had been a pre-existing 
Hindu structure, over which the Babri Masjid had been built. In 
many ways, the lack of urgency e^diibited by the judiciary even 
after the demolition of the mosque, is reminiscent of the casual 
manner in which the legal dispute has been treated for nearly 
four decades. 

However, the judiciary had moved promptly when a mob of 
local Hindus entered the Babri Masjid, and installed the idols on 
the night of December 22-23, 1949. The action of the mob had 
violated Sections 295 and 297 of the Indian Penal Code that dealt 
with "injuring or defiling a place of worship," and "trespassing 
on burial grounds". Instead of immediately removing the idols, 
the local administration sought the protection of the volatile 
situation, and also succeeded in enlisting the support of Markan- 
day Singh, the Additional City Magistrate in Faizabad. He con- 
tended that since there was a long-standing dispute between the 
Hindus and Muslims "over the question of rights of proprietor- 
ship and worship in the building," there was a possibility of a 
clash between the two commumties. The magistrate thus decreed 
that the disputed property be attached under Section 145 of the 
Criminal Procedure Code. The order was passed on December 
29, 1949 barely a week after the idols were installed, and the 
Chairman of the Municipal Board of Ayodhya was also ap- 
pointed as the Receiver. The Magistrate ruled that the gate of 
the mosque be locked, though the Receiver and a priest ap- 
pointed by him could enter the mosque to offer prayers to the 
idols at the specified hours. Hindus were prevented entry to the 


190 



mosque, but could offer obeisance from outside the iron grilled 
gate. The Muslims were also directed not to come near the 
precincts of the Babri Masjid. This order continued till February 
1986 when the District Judge of Faizabad ordered the opening 
of the lock and allowed the Hindus the right to enter the mosque 
and offer prayers to the idols. In the interim 27 years, a plethora 
of cases were filed and there were several orders. Flowever, none 
of them helped to resolve the dispute and what was essentially 
a civil case pertaining to the ownership of a certain property, 
slowly became caught in a political quagmire from which the 
Muslims neither found a way out, nor did they succeed in getting 
back a property that belonged to them. 

The case in 1949 was a simple one of dispossession. The Babri 
Masjid was in the control of the Muslims and they legally owned 
the property. Following the Partition, when Muslims came under 
attack in the twin towns also, the old dispute regarding the 
mosque was raked up again by the local Hindus after a concerted 
campaign. Just the way the police had refused to act when the 
graveyard in front of the Babri Masjid was dug up in the weeks 
preceding the demolition, the local administration connived to 
ensure that the idols were not taken out, and religious sanctity 
was given to the act by allowing continuous puja and bhog inside 
the mosque. There is ambiguity about whether the judiciary also 
wilfully played a part in this act of dispossessing the Muslims 
of the Babri Masjid. 

The action was given more legal protection in 1986 when the 
Hindu devotees were allowed unrestricted entry inside the 
shrine. However, the Muslims continued to have faith in the 
Indian system and continued to agitate for the restoration of the 
mosque with the hope that what had been legally and historically 
theirs would be returned to them. However, this never happened 
with the events of December 6, 1992 effectively sealing their fate. 
The legal dispute over the Babri Masjid had been heard in the 
entire range of courts, yet the Muslims were never given posses- 
sion of the property, making it one of the most peculiar cases in 


191 



the legal history of India. Ironically, the key role in this blatant 
act of dispossession was played by the state machinery and the 
judiciary. 

If the judiciary cooperated with the local administration in 
1949 to dispossess the Muslims of the Babri Masjid, the first 
government in independent India did little to reverse the process 
initiated at the behest of District Magistrate K.K. Nayar. The 
bureaucrat, who later quit service, joined the Jana Sangh and 
eventually became an MP, was recognised for his "services to 
the cause of the Ram temple," and his portrait was prominently 
displayed on a wall inside the Babri Masjid till it existed. 
Jawaharlal Nehru though distressed at the turn of events in 
Ayodhya, could do little to return the disputed mosque to the 
Muslims. Akshay Brahmachari, the local secretary of the Con- 
gress, was the only one to register a string of protests. He shot 
off a series of missives to senior parly leaders, including one to 
Lai Bahadur Shastri, a Minister in the state government of Uttar 
Pradesh who later became Prime Minister afte» the death of 
Nehru. In the memorandum, the local Congress leader asserted 
that he was not viewing the attack on Muslim property and the 
act of dispossesvsing the Muslims of the Babri Masjid, as an issue 
restricted to the question of "saving the mosque or Muslims. I 
view it as saving the great ideals of the Congress and Mahatma 
Gandhi for which we have been struggling all these days. If we 
do not restrict these ideas with all the force in our command, the 
ideals of the Congress will become extinct, and reactionary forces 
will sweep the country". Akshay Brahmachari's warning turned 
out to be fairly prophetical. But, his memorandum and two fasts 
did not stir the Congress party into action. Meanwhile, he quit 
the Congress and after contesting in the state assembly elections 
against Govind Ballabh Pant, the Congress Chief Minister, 
turned a recluse and retired to his small ashram on the outskirts 
of Lucknow. Shortly after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, 
Akshay Brahmachari said that the "time had finally come when 
the Congress ideology had become extinct, and India was at the 


192 



point of being overrun by reactionary forces". 

If the directive of both Nehru and his Deputy Prime Minister 
Vallabhbhai Patel to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh failed 
to remove the idols and restore the mosque to the Muslims, the 
pitch in Ayodhya was further queered by two actions. Firstly, 
the District Magistrate informed the state government that he 
could not comply with their order of returning the Babri Masjid 
to the status before the installation of the idols, because he 
"feared bloodshed and manslaughter and suffering to many in- 
nocent lives". The second move was made by a Ayodhya-based 
Hindu priest, Gopal Singh Visharad, on January 16, 1950 
Visharad filed a case in the court of the Civil Judge of F^zabad 
and pleaded before the judge. N.N. Chadha, that he be allowed 
to "worship and visit without obstruction and disturbance" the 
idols kept inside the mosque. He also pleaded for a permanent 
injunction against any move to remove the idols. While disal- 
lowing Visharad the right to offer prayers, the judge, however, 
passed an interim order on the same which ruled that the idols 
could not be removed and puja should not be interfered with. In 
his petition, Visharad named eight defendants which included 
the Stale of Uttar Pradesh, the Deputy Commissioner and the 
Superintendent ol Police of Faizabad, and five local Muslim resi- 
dents. Three days later, the judge on an application by one of 
the defendants, clarified that the injunction against the removal 
of the idols and continuation of puja had been delivered because 
what was going on inside the Babri Masjid was only "limited 
puja". In less than a month after the idols were forcibly installed 
inside the Babri Masjid by a raging mob, the judiciary and the 
local administration had ensured that the act was legitimised 
and puja was allov- cd without hindrance, even as Muslims were 
no longer permitted to enter the mosque that was legally theirs 
till the night of December 22-23, 1949, 

Though puja continued inside the mosque, the court exhibited 
r.o urgency to dispose of the case filed by Visharad. It also chose 
not to modify its interim injunction even though the Deputy 


193 



Commissioner in his written submission before the court in April 
1950, made three significant points that revealed the factual 
situation in Ayodhya. The three points were: 

a) The property under dispute was "known as Babri Mas- 
jid" and had been used as a mosque for a long time by the 
Muslims; 

b) On the night of December 22-23, 1949 the idols were 
"wrongly and surreptitiously put inside it"; and 

c) The incident had led to making the situation in Ayodhya 
tense and the state authorities had to intervene in order to 
ensure that peace was not disturbed. 

It could be argued that after the categorical position taken by 
Deputy Commissioner, the judge was logically expected to va- 
cate his interim injunction and summon the local officials to hear 
their version regarding why the idols should not be removed 
from the mosque. However, this was not done by the judge, 
confirming the view that the judiciary was an active participant 
in the plan to permanently dispossess the Muslims gf the Babri 
Masjid. 

By the end of 1950, it was clear that the Muslims of Ayodhya 
would find it tough to gel' the mosque restored to them. The 
mosque was also seen by the Hindu priests as a potential avenue to 
riches as pilgrims would flock to the mosque if it was thrown open 
to them. In December, another Hindu priest laid claim to the 
mosque. Ram Chandra Paramhans, who would three decades 
later emerge as one of the significant religious leaders on the VHP 
platform, was the leader of a militant sect of Hinduism the Digam- 
bar Akhara. He made a plea similar to the one by Visharad, and the 
judge responded by consolidating the two suits in February 19.51, 
once again without vacating his interim injunction. The judge 
clarified his stand by pointing out that it was an "undisputed fact 
that on the day of this suit the idols of Shri Bhag wan Ram Chandra 
and others did exist on the site and worship was performed by 
Hindus" . However, the judge did not allow the the Muslim defen- 
dants and the State to present their arguments. 


194 



The spate of legal cases that followed the installation of the 
idols had been preceded by another case filed way back in 1885 
by Mahant Raghubar Das, a Hindu priest. The priest had pleaded 
that as he was the mahant of the Ram Chabutra, and that he be 
allowed to build a temple at the site. However, the sub-judge of 
Faizabad who heard the case, dismissed the petition arguing that 
a temple so close to the mosque, would pose a constant threat 
to peace in Ayodhya. The case was dismissed but not before the 
judge gave further sanction to folklore as he noted in his verdict 
that it was unfortunate that the Muslims had built a mosque at 
Ram's birthplace. It is ironic that when the dispute over the Babri 
Masjid came to receive national attention in the mid 1980s, one 
of the first blueprints of a compromise settlement endorsed b> 
Syed Shahabuddin suggested that the temple be allowed to be 
built over the Ram Chabutra, that the Muslims could enter the 
mosque from the northern gale and the that iron grilled fence 
could be replaced by a brick wall. 

I.,ong before the dispute in Ayodhya came to have a frontal 
position in the political theatre of India, a solution had surfaced 
before the judiciary, but in 1885, it failed to foresee the shape of 
things to emerge, over the next several decades and chose not 
to settle the dispute once and for all. It is a matter of historical 
conjectur of as to what would have happened if the Faizabad 
sub-judge had permitted the Mahant of the Ram Chabutra to 
build a temple adjacent to the Babri Masjid. However, given the 
situation prevailing in Mathura where the mosque continued to 
exist adjacent to the Krishna temple without jeopardising peace 
in the city till the advocates of the Hindutva idea demanded the 
demolition of the Mathura mosque, probably would not be 
wrong to assume i;?at the dispute would have been permanently 
settled. With the new temple being built in the nineteenth cen- 
tury, the people of Ayodhya would have come to terms with the 
*win shrines and the nation could have been saved a great deal 
'' X trouble and discord. 

The partisan nature of the judiciary continued to be visible 

195 



throughout the 1950s. This was visible not just in the local courts 
of Faizabad, but also in the higher courts. In 1955, an appeal was 
filed in the Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court, against 
the interim injunction of the Faizabad judge. It was turned down 
by the cotirt, but it did note that the lower court had erred by 
placing so much faith in the affidavits filed by some local resi- 
dents of Ayodhya, who claimed that the Babri Masjid had not 
been used as a mosque from 1936. The judges also said that it 
would be "desirable that a suit of this kind be decided as soon 
as possible, and it is regretted that it remained undecided after 
four years". Another four years went by, and the Faizabad court 
was yet to come out with the verdict when another group of 
Hindu priests laid claim to the Babri Masjid. The suit filed by 
Mahant Raghunath of the Nirmohi Akhara, besides making a 
plea in a fashion akin to that of the earlier two cases, also 
demanded that the receiver appointed by the criminal court be 
dismissed and the property handed over to the plaintiff. The 
third case was also consolidated with the existing |wo. In the 
meanwhile, the criminal case filed under Section 145 of the CrPC 
that was filed while attaching, meaning taking it under judicial 
control, the Babri Masjid, was consigned to the records as it was 
felt that the verdict of the Civil Court, would have a binding 
effect on the Criminal Court. 

In the cases that were continuing in the local Faizabad courts, 
the Muslims continued to be mere defendants and there was no 
move on their part to join the legal wrangling as a plaintiff. This 
had primarily to do with the "disarray among the Muslims of 
Ayodhya following the attacks on them after Partition". How- 
ever, in December 1961, the Muslims too joined the legal fray 
when the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs and some others filed a 
suit and pleaded that the the court should make a declaration to 
the "effect that the property indicated by the letters A B C D in 
the sketch map attached to the plaint is a public mosque com- 
monly known as the Babri Masjid and that the land adjoining 
the mosque shown in the sketch map by letter E F G H is a public 


196 



Muslim graveyard". The petitioners also pleaded that the court 
should order the "removal of idols and other articles". Little 
progress however, was made m either of the cases till January 
1964 when the civil judge of Faizabad consolidated the case filed 
by the Muslim organisations and individuals with the other three 
cases filed by Hindu priests. The last case was named as the 
leading case and the suit came to be referred as the title suit. By 
the, mid 1960s, the legal dispute over the Babri Masjid had es- 
sentially become a civil dispute involving the legal ownership 
of a disputed property. Like other civil suits, this case also 
dragged on endlessly even as the interim injunction remcdned 
operative. The Muslims of Ayodhya thus remained dispossessed 
of their mosque and the idols remained inside, where puja was 
offered by a priest appointed by the Receiver. 

With the title suit going into a virtual legal tailspin, another 
bizarre controversy began following the death of Priya Dutt 
Ram, the Receiver of the Babri Masjid, in August 1970. This led 
to a spate of applications as the civil judge was urged that the 
new Receiver should be appointed by it, and not by a criminal 
court. Throughout the 1970s, the legal dispute surrounding the 
Receiver took precedence over resolving the title suit. This matter 
was brought up even in the High Court, leading to the records 
of the title suit being "summoned by the High Court and accord- 
ingly no proceedings took place in the suits at Faizabad". The 
dispute surrounding the Receiver was finally settled by the High 
Court only in August 1987, 17 years after the first legal interven- 
tion was made in 1970, and the High Court directed that the 
"records of the four civil suits be placed before the District Judge 
who will transfer the suits to an Additional District Judge who 
is not expected to transferred from Faizabad for approximate- 
ly 18 months thereafter, and will try to dispose of the suits as 
early as possible". 

If the installation of the idols was the first step in dispossess- 
i' .g the Muslim of the Babri Masjid, the next step was taken in 
February 1986 when K.M, Pandey, a high-caste Hindu district 


197 



judge of Faizabad, ruled that the lock on the gate separating the 
mosque from the Ram Chabutra, should be opened and the 
shrine be thrown open to the Hindu devotees. The order was 
issued in the backdrop of the consistent campaign launched by 
the VHP since 1984 and was based on a petition filed by Umesh 
Chandra Pandcy, a young lawyer from Faizabad. There were 
allegations that the decision of the district judge was motivated 
by Arun Nehru, the Union Minister for Internal Security in the 
government headed by Rajiv Gandhi, but they have not been 
substantiated. However, the hasty manner in which the verdict 
was delivered suggests that the judiciary had once again been 
influenced by other considerations and directions. The most star- 
tling aspect of the judicial order was that the Muslim defendants 
in the title suit were not given a chance to intervene in the hearing 
even though they rushed to the court on February 1, 1986 when 
they learnt that the court was considering unlocking the gates 
and throw open the shrine to Hindu devotees. The young lawyer 
had first pleaded before the Faizabad munsif that the lock be 
opened, contending that the gate had been locked»in 1949 be- 
cause the local administration feared a law and order problem 
but that the situation had altered in 1986. 

The munsif, however, rejpused to pass any order as the files of 
the title suit were in the High Court. However, Pandey persisted 
and on February 1 argued before the district judge who promptly 
summoned the local officials. After the superintendent of police 
staled that he did not envisage any breach in security if the lock 
was opened, the judge complied and directed that the gate be 
unlocked. In less than an hour after the order passed without 
summoning the records of the Title suit and the Hindu residents 
of the twin towns were a jubilant lot as the news spread that the 
"Ram Janmabhoomi had been liberated". The ex parte judgment 
was widely commended by the supporters of the RSS clan 
though it came in for sharp criticism from its political adver- 
saries. Although there was a concerted demand that the Union 
government direct the state government of Uttar Pradesh to 


198 



appeal against the district judge's order in the High Court, it was 
not done. This prompted charges that the lock had been opened 
as a sop to the RSS clan in return for bowing to the pressure of 
Muslim fundamentalists in enacting the Muslim Women's 
Protection Bill a year earlier. 

With the government prevaricating on the issue, Mohammed 
Hashim Ansari, a Muslim :esident of Ayodhya, decided to move 
the High Court and on February 3 pleaded that since the district 
judge had given his verdict in the "absence of the parties" the 
Court must stay the district judge's verdict. The partisan nature 
of the judiciary was evident when the Court ruled that the nature 
of property "shall not be changed" till further orders. I’he 
judiciary continued to exhibit lethargy in settling the legal dis- 
pute even as the Sunni Waqf Board moved the High Court in 
May, making a plea similar to that of Hashim Ansari's. However, 
no order was issued immediately and the dispute over the Babri 
Masjid lingered and gathered storm in India. The demand of 
various Mu.slim organisations and the non-BJP opposition that 
the state government be asked to transfer the title suit to the 
High Court was not complied with, with the state government, 
instead, pleading before the court in December 1987 that the files 
of the suit be transferred back to the district judge of Faizabad. 
In Faizabad, the case made little headway even as the VHP 
mounted its campaign, and offensively declared that the suit was 
frivolous because tso court could determine whether the Babri 
Masjid was the birihplace of Ram. 

The absurdity surrounding the legal dispute over the Babri 
Masjid was most evident in a petition filed by the VI IP vice- 
president, Deoki Nandan Aggrawal, in July 1989. In this suit, the 
fifth in the long chem of legal cases, Aggrawal pleaded before 
the District judge of Faizabad that he be considered as the "next 
best friend of the deities" and that he was filing the petition on 
"behalf of Ram Lalla Virajman". The VHP leader, who had 
re; -red as a High Court judge, pleaded that the "entire premises 
of Ram janmabhoomi be declared as belonging to the plaintiff s 


199 



deiti(^, and perpetual injunction against the defendants prohibit- 
ing them from interfering with, placing any objection in the 
construction of a new temple building after demolishing the 
existing buildings and structures". The case was admitted by the 
judge who was "overawed by the fact that a retired judge had 
come to him as a plaintiff". 

By the time Aggrawal filed his case, the controversy sur- 
rounding the controversial Howitzer gun deal, had reached a 
flashpoint, and elections were due later that year. Ever since the 
Bofors issue had surfaced, the Babh Masjid issue had taken a 
back seat in the list of government priorities. However, with 
elections imminent, the state government was virtually forced 
to act and it sought to expedite its application, pending with the 
High Court to transfer the title suit, and Aggrawal's suit to the 
High Court, so that it could be heard by a Special Bench. The 
Lucknow Bench of the High Court heard the matter in July, and 
allowed the withdrawal of the case from the Faizabad District 
Judge's court. The matter came up again before the High Court 
in August, and the Court ruled that all the property in relation 
to the five suits should "maintain status quo", and none of the 
parties could change "the pature of the property in question". 

The interim order of the High Court set the tone for the Union 
government's move to legally allow shilanyas, and the site 
chosen by the VHP to dig up the graveyard, was shown to be 
outside the disputed area as per the sketch map of the leading 
case in the title suit. However, the fact that the map was not to 
scale, was not taken into account because the Union government 
was keen to allow shilanyas as it did not want to alienate the 
Hindu vote bank in the year of the general elections. 

If the legal dispute over the Babri Masjid had been convoluted 
from the time the first case was filed, it only became more com- 
plex after the National Front formed the government, as it could 
neither alienate the support of the Muslims that the Janata Dal, 
its main constituent, had received in the elections, nor could it 
adopt a posture that would lead to the BJP withdrawing support 


200 



from the minority government. The Special Bench thus went 
through its motions even as the VHP questioned the "main- 
tainability of the case filed by the Sunni Board". The argument 
advanced was that the case was not maintainable since "only a 
mutwalli and not a Waqf Board can enforce a legal right on a 
mosque," and since the mutwalli of the Babri Masjid was not the 
plaintiff, the court should dismiss the suit. The matter was raised 
by Ram Chandra Paramhans in the Supreme Court in January 
1990, and the Court directed the High Court to listen to the 
arguments regarding it. 

Political developments once again had their impact on the 
politics surrounding the Babri Masjid, and the BJP and other RSS 
affiliates prepared for another confrontation with the Union 
government. Meanwhile, Paramhans sought to withdraw his 
suit, arguing that he had "lost all hope in the judiciary". The 
main developments in the dispute over the Ayodhya shrine from 
the later half of 1990 were essentially political, rather than legal. 
It was also becoming increasingly evident that the judiciary was 
finding it tough to tackle the case and take a definite position 
because of the manner in which the issue had come to dominate 
the political agenda in India. V.P. Singh had to resign as Prime 
Minister, following the BJP decision to withdraw support, and 
the title suii was virtually put in cold storage as elections fol- 
lowed. 

By the time the tiJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh, it was 
not clear whethet the judiciary, like other wings of the state 
machinery, was also getting divided on communal lines. This 
was of great importance as the Special Bench composed of two 
tiindu judges and one Muslim judge. The BJP claimed that its 
victory in Uttar Pradesh was a "mandate to build the Ram 
temple," and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before 
the Muslims would be completely dispossessed of the Babri 
M.?sjid. 1 he legal dispute took another turn when the Uttar 
Pradesh government's decision to acquire 2.7744 acres of land 
in Ayodhya, was challenged in the High Court. Like other pre- 


201 



vious cases, this also dragged on with the Court dela 3 dng its final 
verdict till a week after the demolition. The interim ruling further 
jf^mplicated matters, as it allowed the state government the right 
to build temporary structures without transferring the land to 
the VHP, as intended by the BJP. This gave the state government 
the opportunity to start demolishing structures, including Hindu 
temples, around the Babri Masjid. While the demolition violated 
the High Court's interim order in the title suit, to maintain status 
quo of the disputed property the Court did not take any action 
to prevent it. By the time the VHP started its kar seva programme 
in July 1992, it appeared that the entire judiciary was not keen 
to pass a verdict on the dispute. The issue had become political 
and any solution had to be political in character. The Supreme 
Court, which was moved in December 1991, transferred the writ 
petitions on the decision of the Uttar Pradesh government to 
acquire the land to the High Court but it sat on the matter. With 
the Union government demonstrating no sense of urgency to 
resolve the Ayodhya dispute, the judiciary also^ evinced little 
interest in the matter. The Union government wanted to use the 
judiciary as a shield, in its political battle with the RSS clan, but 
the judiciary was unwilling to be used as such. The Supreme 
Court appointed an observer to ensure that no construction was 
carried out in Ayodhya. The observer had no report to file on 
the night of December 6, simply because the only activity that 
had taken place was demolition. 

For the Muslims of India, the judicial process has been a long 
haul. The role of the judiciary, even after the demolition, has also 
been no different as the Presidential reference to determine 
whether a Hindu structure existed at the site of the Babri Masjid 
was also not taken up swiftly. In a situation where Indian Mus- 
lims have no official forum to seek recourse to, the Citizens' 
Tribunal on Ayodhya has assumed great significance. 



CHAPTER 6 


Praharkand 




Dark-gray cloud masses 
Obscuring the horizon 
Mile after mile after mile, 

Traversing forested hills, 

Skirting inaccessible jungles, 

Childishly aggressive, 

Swift as wing they covered 
The face of earth. 

Some did handsprings 
Stamped their feet, 

Clambered up hills, 

Roaring and screaming. 

Lakhs and lakhs of them, 

Energetic vanars... 

From The Ramayan's Yudhkand 


T j n] Krishna Advani ascended to the presidency of the 
Bharatiya Janata Party in May 1986, a decision taken in order to 
give a marked Hindu thuist to the character of the party. By that 
time the political ‘Scenario in India had begun to resemble the 
time in 1973 when Indira Gandhi showed the first signs of stum- 
bling. Even though Gandhi was no longer a personae in the 
Indian political theatre, she had bequeathed the mantle of power 
tv ' her son Rajiv. As in the aftermath of the Bangladesh problem, 
the euphoria of the landslide victory for Rajiv Gandhi, quickly 
evaporated as the ruling party displayed its inability to govern 

205 



the country effectively. The situation became more and more 
heated in late 1986. A financial scandal surfaced and the opposi- 
tion leaders found ammunition in the form of Michael 
Hershman. Non-Congress political parlies found more ammuni- 
tion when V.P. Singh, the Union Finance Minister under Rajiv 
Gandhi was divested of his portfolio, and shifted to another 
department because of his role in highlighting the Hershman 
issue. 

In March 1 987, another lurid scandal gave even more strength 
to Rajiv Gandhi's opponents. This was the infamous Bofors con- 
troversy, sparked off following a sensational disclosure by 
Swedish Radio. This suggested that the manufacturers of the 
Swedish Howitzers had paid Indian politicians a kickback to the 
tune of Rs 1500 crores, for guaranteeing the purchase of their 
guns, and not those manufactured by their rivals. After the 
Bofors controversy came to the fore, it dogged attention and 
dominated India's agenda. 'Corruption in high places', became 
the central theme of the campaign of Rajiv's antagonists both 
inside his party, and outside it. A crucial role in this period was 
played by V.P. Singh, who manoeuvred his expulsion from the 
Congress in June 1987, andlater went on to form Jan Morcha, a 
political conglomerate of rebel Congressmen. 

The situation bore a great resemblance to the time before Indira 
Gandhi imposed Internal Emergency with the non-Congress op- 
position parties enacting their roles with great cohesion. V.P. 
Singh emerged as the symbol of the fight against Rajiv Gandhi, 
who now epitomised a corrupt regime. By the end of 1987, it had 
become clear that it was just a matter of time before V.P. Singh 
emerged as the main contender for the Prime Minister's post at the 
next general elections. The moot question was what kind of politi- 
cal formation would ensure the victory of V.P. Singh and his com- 
bine at those elections. The Janata Party experiment was still fresh 
in the minds of people. With the various factions that had been 
formed after the split in the party, working in close association 
with V.P, Singh, there were expectations that another political 


206 



conglomerate of anti-Congress forces could be thrown together. 
There were great similarities, including the presence of a former 
Congressman in the ranks of the anti-Congress parties. 

The BJP however, preferred to distance itself from the attempt 
to cobble together a united front of anti-Congress parties. The 
BJP had "learnt from the Janata experience"’ of the Jana Sangh, 
that it would be difficult for a political conglomerate formed by 
politicians from diverse ideological backgrounds, to remain a 
cohesive unit for long. The party leadership was clear about two 
things nevertheless: One that the "ouster of this corrupt juid 
worthless government (Rajiv Gandhi's government) is the No 1 
issue before the people, and should take precedence before 
everything else".^ Secondly, they were also clear that the party 
would "continue the struggle against the government until its 
removal and replacement by a more responsible government".^ 
At the time the BJP joined the opposition agitation against the 
Rajiv Gandhi government, it had no visions of the party sharing 
power at the Centre. The BJP was more concerned with securing 
political credibility which in 1988 it did not possess. In order to 
achieve its first goal, the BJP was keen to project itself as a 
principled party that would not rush into another 'Janata-type' 
merger of parties merely to defeat the Congress and come to 
power. 

The BJP participated in and often spearheaded actions in- 
itiated by other opposition parties. Always though, it was con- 
sciously trying to project the old image of the Jana Sangh as a 
party whose leaders were not power seekers, but were instead 
moralistic in their approach, and would not stoop to petty politi- 
cal machinations. The BJP in this way confessed that the Jan 
Sangh had erred in joining the Janata Parly, and that the mistake 
would not be repeated. The signal being sent by the BJP to the 
Indian electoiate is best summarised by the assertion of Advani 
that the BJP "has always been of the view that mere aggregation 
oi disparate groups without a coherent set of policies and 
programmes to hold them together cannot inspire confidence in 


207 



the people, and that therefore far more important than opposi- 
tion unity is opposition credibility" ^ The BJP was clear that being 
anti-Congress alone could not be the basis for a new political 
conglomerate. There were several issues on which the BJP had 
irreconcilable differences with other opposition parties, which 
was why they would not merge into any new party. Instead the 
BJP would "continue to concentrate on organisational activity at 
the grassroots, and on issue-oriented agitations aimed at mobilis- 
ing farmers, consumers, youth, women, and Harijans."-'’ 

Even though the BJP had reservations regarding the nascent 
efforts to form a new party, they realised that it would be difficult 
for them to register growth if they ploughed a lonely farrow. In 
the northern state of Haryana, the BJP joined forces with aging 
Jat leader Devi Lai, to set up an agitation against the Congress 
government in the state. The agitation, conducted under the 
aegis of the Haryana Sangharsh Samiti, alarmed the Congress 
sufficiently for it to delay elections to the state assembly from 
March 1987 to May 1987. The BJP worked out an alliance with 
the Lok Dal led by Devi Lai even though there "were many 
obstacles in the negotiations regarding seat adjustments" ^ The 
ensuing elections saw the tptal marginalisation of the Congress, 
as it managed to win only 5 seats out of the total of 87 for which 
elections were held. The BJP had an impressive tally of 15 but 
the Lok Dal won 58 of the seats and, in the process secured a 
two thirds majority on its own. The BJP was asked to join the 
state government, as Devi Lai had pledged that the parties active 
in the Sangharsh Samiti would "fight elections together and 
would form the government jointly after winning the elections".^ 
Suraj Bhan, the leader of the BJP group in the state assembly, 
became a Minister in the Haryana government. This was the first 
instance of the BJP sharing power, and it endorsed the decision 
of the BJP leadership to strike out tactical electoral alliances. The 
results were significant in the sense that this was the first major 
electoral humiliation of Rajiv Gandhi after being elevated into 
power. For the BJP, the elections indicated a "turning point in 


208 



the politics of the country."’’ 

The Haryana elections were also significant in the form of a 
tacit alliance between the BJP and the communist parties. Even 
though the two groups were diametrically opposite ideological- 
ly, they agreed to an indirect electorate alliance. Indirect, be- 
cause, both had an understanding with the I, ok Dal: The two 
communist parties were allocated one seat each by the "senior 
partner"’’ while the BJP had been asked to field candidates from 
18 seats. The BJP sought to argue that it did not have an alliance 
with the communist parties. It set up a candidate from one of 
the two seats left to the communistsj, but did nor oppose the 
other. This trend was of great significance in next general elec- 
tions of 1989 when the BJP and the two communist parties in- 
dividually worked out electoral allianc* s with the National Front 
combine even while contesting against each other in some con- 
stituencies. The pattern of the Haryana assembly elections and 
its repetition in 1989 was instrumental in providing the quantum 
jump both in popularity and acceptability of the BJP in such a 
short time. They cleverly utilised to thei** own advantage the 
desire of other non-Congress parties to defeat the Congress and 
come to power. The strategy was sagacity itself, and akin to the 
old adage of using somebody else's shoulder to fire from. 


Underlining Distinct Identity 

Back, in 1988, the BJP had been keen to drive home its mistrust 
of the communist parties, and its differences with the two parties. 
This was sharply in evidence in the election for the new President 
of India in June 1988 The Presidential elections were held at a 
time when the Rajiv Gandhi government appeared to be running 
out of steam, out of luck, and out of excuses. It faced fresh 
problems when President Zail Singh appeared to be taking out 
h’ ire on Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress nominated R. 
Venkataraman as its candidate for the Presidency, and his victory 
was never in doubt because of the massive majority of the ruling 

209 



party in the electoral college comprising members of Parliament 
and state legislative bodies. However, the opposition parties 
decided to field a candidate for a s 3 nnbolic contest and requested 
a former Chief Justice of India, V.K. Krishna Iyer, to contest the 
elections as the joint opposition candidate. However, the BJP 
decided to abstain from voting in the elections because the com- 
munist parties were "bent upon foisting their choice on the Op- 
position without regard to the prospects of success."^” The BJP 
also maintained that the "person chosen for the Presidency of 
India should be an outstanding man with a distinguished record 
of national service. He/she should be non-controversial."** The 
party also held that it would be best for the country, if the process 
of electing the President is "insulated from partisan politics, so 
that the choice ultimately reflects a national consensus."*^ 

In the 1988 elections for the Presidency, the BJP was piqued 
because the Congress "did not think it necessary to consult the 
Opposition parties,"’^ and that some opposition parties "did not 
think it necessary to involve even other opposition parties in 
selecting their candidate."'** The BJP strategy in the elections for 
the Haryana assembly and the Presidential elections was one of 
striking tactical alliance, td^ ensure the party's growth and also 
underline the BJFs differences with other opposition groups. 
Even while being a part of the broad anti-Congress platform, the 
BJP was keen to demonstrate its independent position on crucial 
issues. The BJP could be considered a partner in the opposition 
strategy, but not an integral part. The BJP highlighted this dis- 
tinction between it and other opposition parties by contending 
that "where other parties have cooperated in this effort (agitate 
for the dismissal of the government) we have readily participated 
in concerted action. Where they have taken a line which we felt 
would only strengthen the Rajiv government, as they did under 
pressure from the Communist parties in respect of the Presiden- 
tial elections, the BJP has not hesitated to take an independent 
line." '5 

Nonetheless, the BJP was most pragmatic in understanding 

210 



that the Congress could not be defeated if there was a division 
of votes among non-Congress parties. The results in Haryana 
demonstrated that the Congress could be defeated in the elec- 
tions only if the opposition fielded a joint candidate from the 
majority of seats. Throughout 1988 and 1989 the BJP keenly 
followed the development within other opposition parties. This 
first led to the merger of the Lok Dal, the Janata Party and the 
Jan Morcha, with the new party called Janata Dal. Subsequently, 
the National Front was formed comprising the Janata Dal, the 
Congress(S) and the regional parties from Andhra Pradesh 
Telugu Desam, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam from Tamil Nadu, 
and Asom Gana Parishad from Assam. When elections were 
announced for the general elections, the leaders of the National 
From started independent negotiations with the BJP and the 
communist parties to forge an electoral alliance. 

The strategy of the Haryana elections was repeated even 
though there were several constituencies where the BJP and the 
communist candidates were locked in multi-comered contests. 
The BJP benefited greatly by retaining its separate identity even 
while coming to an electoral understanding. Barring a few stray 
constituencies, the BJP, the National Front, and the Left Front 
did not lock horns, and this led to the defeat of the Congress 
even though no party, including the National Front, secured a 
clear majority, leading to the phase of coalition governments 
sustained by support from outside. The BJP made spectacular 
gains in the 1989 elections, with the number of its parliamen- 
tarians jumping from the total of two in 1984, to 89. It was now 
evident that the BJP had come to occupy a pivotal position in 
Indian polity and even though it did not share power with the 
.National Front, it was apparent that the Union government was 
at the mercy of the BJP. 

The manifold growth of the BJP in 1989 stemmed from two 
t. ctors. First, by shrewdly aligning itself with the anti-congress 
opposition parties, and sensing that the Indian electorate was 
keen to jettison the Congress if a viable alternative appeared in 


211 



the offing. Secondly, the BJP also reaped the benefits of the 
Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Ram temple agitation. It projected 
itself as the only political party that considered the temple agita- 
tion to be a legitimate one, and a right one at that, to undo the 
"historical wrong". The BJP was also aided in its rise to the 
pivotal position by the inability of other non-Congress parties to 
assess the ultimate plan of the BJP. This was evident in the 
manner in which the non-Congress opposition parties forged 
alliances with the BJP, solely to defeat the Congress and paid 
scant regard to what the BJP could gain from such alliances. The 
BJP was aided therefore, by the political myopia of non-Congress 
opposition parties. This included the communists, who as we 
have seen forged indirect political alliance with the BJP, in the 
general elections of 1989, and in the elections for the state as- 
sembly in Haryana in 1987. 

The BJP's new thrust began in 1986, when Advani was elected 
president, after the sidelining of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Shrewdly, 
the BJP did not get directly embroiled in the VHIi agitation. 
Instead, the party waited for the agitation to gain momentum, 
and when the political developments started snowballing 
towards a crisis, the BJP cleverly played the 'temple card' and 
reaped electoral benefits from the supporters of the temple agita- 
tion. Before the BJP formally adopted the temple agitation as 
part of the party programme, they did not attempt to refrain any 
of their members or leaders from associating with the VHP agita- 
tion. This was most evident in the participation of Vijaya Raje 
Scindia, the wife of the former prince of Gwalior state and party 
vice president, in the VHP agitation, and her dual status as BJP 
office-bearer and VHP patron. In fact, from the time the VHP 
launched its temple agitation and started its campaign, the BJP 
had virtually two machineries at its disposal: Its own cadre 
drawn from the RSS fold, and the neo-converts to the VHP fold. 

The first move critical of the government after the elevation 
of Advani was the listing of a 50-point chargesheet against them. 
The accusation was that the "unity, integrity, security, and 


212 



honour of India" was in "more danger than at any time since 
Independence."’* However, the raison d'etre of the listing of 
failures of the government, was that when Rajiv Gandhi assumed 
ofhce it was expected that a "d 3 mamic modem man would smash 
the shackles of obscurantism and bigotry and lead the country 
into the 21st century; and a Mr Clean would sweep clean the 
Congress(I) stables of corruption and incompetence."’^ The char- 
gesheet was the result of the failure of the government to live 
up to its initial promise. 

The chargesheet found no space for the Ayodhya dispute as 
the issue had been temporarily resolved in favour of the VHP 
and its allies with the opening of the locks in February 1986 
However, the BJP listed the government decision to pass the 
Muslim Women's (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill and 
demanded that Hindus and Muslims should have common civil 
laws. The BJP accused the government of bowing to pressure 
from the Muslim League on the issue even though it had initially 
welcomed the Supreme Court verdict on the Shah Bano case. 
The BJP maintained that after the Muslim League mounted its 
offensive against the court verdict, the "government lost nerve, 
and decided to turn tail." A large number of charges listed 
against the Rajiv Gandhi government pertained to its inability 
to manage the growing national problems in Punjab, Kashmir, 
and the north eastern states even though the Centre had signed 
an accord with those agitating within a year of Rajiv Gandhi's 
ascendancy. The indictment in the chargesheet was simple; India 
has a "government that cannot govern, a Prime Minister who 
cannot administer, a leader who cannot lead". The charges 
against the government were listed before the Fairfax controver 
sy had surfaced ana before any major financial scandal had con 
to the fore. The tone therefore had been set by the BJP. It no v 
showed signs of recovery from the shocking defeat of 1984 and 
vvas positioning itself for participating in the opposition cam- 
paign against Rajiv Gandhi. By the time the crisis had set in for 
the Congress in April 1987, with the Bofors controversy, the BJP 


213 



had revamped its organisational machinery and had started 
making shrewd moves in tandem with other opposition parties. 
They never lost sight of their decision to retain a separate identity 
however. 

Meanwhile, much of the political agenda on the Ayodhya 
dispute was set by Muslim leaders. Meetings were organised, 
memorandums submitted, and Muslims were mobilised cutting 
across party lines. In each of the moves, the Union government 
was petitioned to direct the Uttar Pradesh government to seek 
a judicial review of the District Judge's order, but they were 
unsympathetic. This led to the formation of several groups of 
agitating Muslim leaders, who succeeded in projecting the Babri 
Masjid as the symbol of Muslim pride in India. It had to be 
restored to the community if the Muslims were to live with 
dignity in the country. The VHP on its part was complacent for 
the first few months after the locks had been opened. Its imme- 
diate demand had been met and Hindu devotees had access to 
the shrine. It has been argued on several occasions that the Ayod- 
hya dispute would not have become a recurring issue had the 
Muslim leadership not provided a strident tone to their agitation. 

Some of the Muslim leaders, who played a crucial role in the 
initial months after the unlocking of the gates, have contended 
that the Muslim leadership made little effort to address them- 
selves to the majority of Hindus who at that stage did not support 
either the VHP or its agitation. The Muslim leaders also made 
little effort to enlist the support of non-Muslim politicians with 
secular credentials. Instead, the entire dispute was projected as 
a Muslim versus Hindu dispute which left non-Muslim 
politicians with little chance to intervene. The hard stance of the 
Muslim leadership also aided the VHP which was quick to 
mount a campaign arguing that the Muslims were not sensitive 
to Hindu sentiments. The shriller the pitch of the Muslim leader- 
ship, the greater was the boost to the VHP. Consequently the 
spread of the Hindutva idea that saw the Muslims as natural 
adversaries who had to be tamed into submission and Ayodhya 


214 



were the main issue on which the Hindus could not relent. 

As a part of its campaign to secure the restoration of the Babri 
Masjid, the Muslim leaders organised a show of strength in Delhi 
in December 1986. By this time a predictable tussle for power 
had begun within the Muslim leadership. With each wanting to 
outwit the other, the leaders felt that the one giving the most 
belligerent call would emerge as the undisputed leader. This led 
to Syed Shahabuddin giving a call to Muslims to boycott the 
Republic Day celebration in 1987. At this same meeting a call 
was given to Muslims that they should prepare themselves for 
a march to Ayodhya to "claim the mosque for themselves as the 
government was doing nothing on the matter."'* Tiiere were 
loud protests, most notably from the BJP which met for its ex- 
ecutive session at Vijayawada in the last week of December, and 
the first week of Janv.ary. Advani, continuing the criticism of the 
Rajiv Gandhi government, argued that it was being increasingly 
weak-kneed and could be easily pushed into a corner, and forced 
into submission by minority groups. He said the threatened 
boycott was a "case in point. The move is anti-national, it is 
inflammatory, irresponsible."'^ 

There were pleas from other opposition parties for the 
withdrawal of the boycott call, which Shahabuddin ultimately 
accepted to do. Unfortunately, by then the damage had been 
done. For the larger peui of 1987, the VHP publicity machinery 
cited the boycott call to argue that the Muslims had put "religion 
over the nation". They were further aided by the decision of the 
Muslim leadership to give the call for a "long march" ro Ayod- 
hya, at another rally in March 1987. The BJP president, L.K. 
Advani joined issues with the Muslim leadership, by declaring 
that the speeches of the Muslim leaders were an "unabashed 
attempt to intimidate the nation by threats of violence". The 
statement issued a day after the rally on March 30, 1987 hinted 
at :he future agenda of the BJP. Advani declared that the dispute 
was "not just a legal issue, nor is it merely a question of history. 
It is essentially a question of a nation's identity. Whom must this 


215 



nation identify with; Ram or with Babur?"^ The BJP leader 
further suggested that the Muslim leadership, he specifically 
named Shahabuddin which indicated that the BJP and its allies 
had come to recognise the former IPS officer as the chief spokes- 
man for Muslims, would "like Hindus to identify with Ram, and 
Muslims with Babur. BJP rejects this perverse and separatist 
approach and holds that all patriots, Hindus and Muslims, can- 
not but identify themselves with Ram and recognise Babur for 
what he was, a foreign invader."^’ 

Escalating Communal Tension 

With the Congress facing one crisis after another, rocked by 
financial scandals and internal dissidence. There was little politi- 
cal thought or will to tackle the deteriorating communal situation 
in the country. Following the rally in Delhi, communal forces 
within the country found fresh fodder as returning Muslims 
were either felicitated within their community or fidiculed by 
the supporters of the VHP. While Muslims hoisted black flags 
to demonstrate their anger over the Ayodhya issue, VHP sup- 
porters were quick to put up saffron flags. Street rallies and 
provocative slogans became the order of the day, in many sen- 
sitive areas. The situation was becoming particularly alarming 
in Uttar Pradesh, with the "state intelligence bureau constantly 
feeding reports to the Home Ministry that the threatened show 
of force over the never-ending Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid, 
issue could precipitate communal trouble in sensitive districts, 
particularly in Meerut, Rampur, Moradabad, Kanpur and Al- 
lahabad."^ Yet again, the government did not act, making no 
effort to lake preventive measures. Another report said: "A major 
part of Uttar Pradesh has witnessed tremendous communalisa- 
tion ever since the issue of Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi sur- 
faced."^’ 

The situation in Meerut had also turned nasty, as "being very 
close to Delhi, a large number of Muslims from there went to 

216 



participate in the rally. Some of them even wore shrouds... The 
militancy among the Muslims was growing on this question. The 
Hindus were by no means less aggressive, perhaps a degree 
more. If Muslims raised the slogan: 'We Muslims are 30 crores, 
we will wring blood out of you,' the Hindus shouted 'Hindus 
and Sikhs are brothers, where did the Muslim community come 
from,' and 'If you want to live in India, you have to live like a 
Hindu.' These slogans were painted on the walls of Meerut."^ 
Finally the carbuncle burst in Meerut in April 1987. On the 
day that Muslims celebrating bhab-e-barat, the Muslim festival 
seeking deliverance of the loved ones who have died, it was clear 
that the Ayodhya dispute had "played havoc. The politics of 
confrontation, has wrought this destruction. VHP and Babri Ac- 
tion Committee are the real culprits."^** The phase of Hindu-Mus- 
lim rioting in April that left nearly a score dead was however 
contained. Although tensions were still running high in the city, 
the local administration made no effort to monitor the situation, 
and thus prevent another outbreak of communal violence. Less 
than a month later, Meerut was again rocked by rioting. One of 
the most serious riots erupted on May 18, 1987. These riots were 
sparked off in a largely Muslim colony. A small stall "belonging 
to a Muslim was set on fire by some miscreants,"^ was followed 
by unprecedented attacks on Muslim life and property. What, 
made the situation in Meerut more shocking, was the participa- 
tion of the security forces mainly the controversial Provincial 
Armed Constabulary in these selective attacks. There were two 
specific incidents for which the PAC was held guilty; The first 
at a locality called Hashimpura from where Muslim youths were 
rounded up in police trucks, they were later shot and their bodies 
dumped in the nearby canal. The second case took place in a 
nearby village called Maliyana where policemen systematically 
shot dead Muslim inhabitants. Riots in Meerut in this phase also 
sp) ead to areas previously not affected by communal violence. 
They included middle class colonies, and indicated that the Hin- 
dus of this class were slowly ac epting the VHP argument. One 


217 



of the people whose house was ransacked and later torched was 
that of Bashir Badr, an eminent Urdu poet known for his 
nationalistic views. There were allegations that the state govern- 
ment had been aware of the violence perpetuated against the 
Muslims by the security forces. There were also accusations that 
the Chief Minister Vir Bahadur Singh, had been directly in- 
volved, and the attacks had "Itappened with his connivance" 
He was summoned to Delhi by Rajiv Gandhi and the prime 
minister admitted that "communal conflicts were posing a grave 
danger to the country."^ 

Even now it is difficult to state the exact number of people who 
died. But there were figures which ranged from the grossly exag- 
gerated to the drastically reduced. One of the accounts of the riots 
states, that "it is nimoured that more than twenty thousand died. 
But it is a ridiculously high figure. This belief gets strengthened by 
discovery of bodies every day from nullahs, cells and obscure 
comers. Two other more moderate estimates are of the dead as 
1,500 and 350. The Government admits only a littlei)ver hundred 
deaths which again seems iai below the actual number. My guess 
is about 400 deaths in these riots."^’The riots in Meerut also spilled 
over to neighbouring aretis in UP, and also broke out in the capital 
on May 22, 1987. In Delhi also, the Muslims accused the police of 
complicity in the attacks on them, that led to the Shahi Imam of the 
Jama Masjid to close the mosque for two weeks, in protest against 
government policies. This was the first time that the mosque had 
been shut down by the mosque management it had been pre- 
viously closed by the British after the rebellion in 1857 for five 
years and a huge banner outside the locked up mosque declared 
that this had been done to "protest against extreme atrocities and 
barbarism."^ The riots in Meerut and its neighbouring areas, the 
most serious of Hindu-Muslim clashes after the Ayodhya dispute, 
came to the fore with the opening of the locks, underscored two 
most vital aspects. Firstly, both the bureaucracy and the security 
forces were beginning to exhibit their bias against the Muslims. 
Secondly, it was clear that the Ayodhya controversy had emerged 


218 



as the focal point of Hindu-Muslim conflict and unless it was 
speedily resolved by the government there would be "many more 
Meeruts". 

There was virtual unanimity among non-BJP opposition par- 
ties, and several sections of the intelligentsia that the Ayodhya 
dispute had to be settled. In a letter to Rajiv Gandhi on May 25, 
1987 General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, C. 
Rajeshwar Rao, categorically stated that the "background of the 
present wave of communal violence is, of course, the Babri Mas- 
jid-Ram Janmabhuomi controversy...! must say that the Central 
government and the UP government cannot escape respon- 
sibility." The UP umt of the Indian People's Front, while charging 
the government with the "conspiratorial decision" to unlock the 
gates, stated that the decision "swept the country with a new 
communal frenzy, and Meerut has become its victim". A large 
number of leading intellectuals also issued a statement recognis- 
ing the fact that the Ayodhya "syndrome has been exploited by 
both sides to rouse passions. This must stop and the issue be 
settled by negotiations, arbitration or judicial process. In the 
meantime all demonstrations must be banned."’’ The National 
Federation of Progressive Writers, went one step further by 
demanding that the controversy could be ended by declaring the 
disputed shrine a "protected national monument" and placing 
it under the custody of the Archaeological Survey of India. 

There was also criticism from within the ruling party. Arif 
Mohammed Khan, who had earned the ire of the traditional 
Muslim leadership for advocating the rejection of the Muslim 
Women's (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill, had started dis- 
tancing himself from the party leadership, in preparation for the 
final parting of ways. He later teamed up with V.P. Singh and 
other rebel Congressmen to form the Jan Morcha. In a virtual 
indictment of Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, Khan asked in a 
lettr r, "it is not known how you have distracted yourself from 
the popular policy of secularism and compromised with com- 
munal and divisive forces". A similar posture was adopted by 


219 



another rebel Congress Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who 
asked Rajiv Gandhi that "if th ’ Congress does not uphold the 
banner of secularism with seriousness and resolute determina- 
tion, who else will do? What I saw in Meerut has shaken me to 
the bones. What has saddened me more is the inadequacy of our 
response". 

However, the government gripped by internal problems and 
financial scandals coming to the fore, prevaricated on the issue, 
and did little of substance even as the Muslim leadership showed 
aggressive signs of increasing the phch of the agitation. The VHP 
responded by declaring that it would give a "fitting answer"’^ 
to the Babri Action Committee. The only action by the govern- 
ment in this direction, was the appointment of a three-member 
cabinet sub-committee, comprising Home Minister Buta Singh, 
P.V. Neirasimha Rao, and P. Shiv Shankar to devise a "line of 
action" for the settlement of the dispute. This committee made 
little impact, as it did not meet even once for nearly two months 
after its formation, and even then it did nothing to settle the 
dispute. 

Even by the middle of 1987, it was becoming resoundingly 
clear that the Congress,'though not facing an immediate threat 
would find the going tough in the next general elections two 
years later. Corruption had become the dominant issue in the 
political theatre of India, and V.P. Singh had the aura of a clean 
honest man who had been hounded out of the government for 
trying to expose those involved in corrupt practices. The process 
of an opposition unity of sorts had already been initiated during 
the assembly elections in Haryana in May 1987. It was only a 
matter of time before a united front of sorts would fructify, and 
Rajiv Gandhi would face the greatest acid test of his short politi- 
cal career, as smaller regional parlies joined in the effort to project 
a national alternative to the Congress. The ruling party appeared 
to be rudderless, not working to a definite plan, and seemed to 
be merely involving itself in a series of crisis limitation exercises. 
This approach was also evident in their handling of the growing 


220 



Hindu-Muslim tensions. The broad assessment of the party was 
that the Muslims had been placated by the capitulation of the 
Union government on the Shah Bano case, and hard-nosed Hin- 
dus had been assuaged by opening the locks of the Ayodhya 
shrine. The approach of the Congress was to take along with it 
communal forces from both communities. By 1987, of all the 
political parties, only the BJP had a definite viewpoint on the 
Ayodhya dispute as evident in Advani's assertion discussed ear- 
lier. Other political parties were primarily concerned with fire- 
fighting, or by calling for a negotiated settlement, details of 
which they were unable to spell out. 

Analysing the events of 1987, and the subsequent years lead- 
ing up to the defeat of Rajiv Gandhi in the 1989 general elections, 
it becomes clear that the opposition parties had .vorked out an 
understanding with the BJP. This was done without really un- 
derstanding or giving scant regard to the way the BJP ap- 
proached the long-.siinmering Hindu-Muslim conflict. It was 
primarily for the short-term gain of defeating the Congress. The 
Congress too failed to comprehend the political implications and 
the sole gainer was the BJP. The political drama that followed 
after the exit of V.P. Singh from the Congress fold, was high- 
lighted by the personality clash between Rajiv Gandhi on the 
one hand aitd V.P. Singh and his allies, including Gandhi's 
cousin Arun Nehru, on the other. There were some stray voices 
of concern at the as.*iociation of the opposition parties with the 
BJP, but those voices were lost in the din and dust generated by 
the anti-Congress euphoria, and beneath the populist slogans on 
the need to cleanse India of corrupt politicians. They were also 
drowned in the boisterous victory celebrations after the results 
of the Haryana assembly elections. The BJP in this period, clever- 
ly kept its temple card in the background. It never denied though 
its commitment to the VHP agitation and in the process ensured 
its use as a significant political force in India, without ever dilut- 
ing Its ideological orientation. 

Throughout 1987, India was a veritable battlefield across 

221 



which both VHP and Muslim leaders espousing the pros and 
cons of the Babri Masjid. They traded charges and vitiated the 
atmosphere with the government remaining a passive spectator. 
Even as Meerut limped to normalcy, these two warring groups 
had started preparing for the next round of confrontation. By 
this time the VHP had floated yet another organisation called 
the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, established with the professed goal 
of rebuilding the "magnificent temple" after "shifting" the Babri 
Masjid. The new organisation was formed with the twin aims of 
appointing as office-bearers those who had not been accom- 
modated in the existing organisations, and the desire of the RSS 
dominated VHP leadership to continue their strategy of working 
through affiliates which had now increased appreciably in num- 
ber. 

The Muslim leadership had also formed an apex body called 
Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee, with Syed 
Shahabuddin as its chief spokesman. The committee had sub- 
mitted a memorandum to the government shortly before the 
Meerut riots broke out. This demanded that the government 
undertake efforts to speed up the judicial settlement by seeking 
the withdrawal of the^'title suit from the Faizabad court and 
getting the dispute heard by a Special Bench of the High Court. 
The Committee also demanded that the government must enact 
a law ensuring the protection of all religious shrines in the con- 
dition they were in, at the time of Independence in 1947. This 
demand was made as a consequence of several VHP leaders 
asserting in public meetings and news conferences that Ayodhya 
was "just the first milestone." There were several other Hindu 
shrines that had to be "liberated from the clutches of Muslims." ’-’ 

Similarly, in June 1 987, the VHP also mounted a campaign and 
petitioned the government to hand over the existing structure to 
the Nyas for building the temple as the "question was a matter of 
prestige and dignity for the entire Hindu samaj."’^ Through a 
statement issued by the president of the Mukti Yagna Samiti, 
Mahant Avaidyanath, and its secretary, Dau Dayal Khanna, the 


222 



VHP demanded that the government must immediately comply 
with the decision of theDharam Sansad. The two leaders cited the 
case of the rebuilding of the Somnath temple after Independence 
when the government had formed a Trust to rebuild the 
demolished temple where the idols were formally installed by 
Rajendra Prasad, India's first President. However, the govern- 
ment continued its somnambulist stance and in a reply to a ques- 
tion in Parliament on the Meerut riots, the government made no 
mention of the fact that the riots had been triggered off by the high 
level of animosity, between Hindus and Muslims over the Ayod- 
hya issue. Thereply merely gave a descrip lion of the steps taken by 
the government, and listed the number of official visitors to the 
troubled city. The reply also mentioned that a "Special Commi- - 
sioner (Relief) assisted by a Deputy Commissioner (Relief) was 
posted at Meerut, to expedite the relief operations.^'’ There was no 
mention of any political initiative to ensure that there were no 
more Meeruts." 

If the government failed to take prompt action to settle the 
dispute, and the VHP were mounting a hostile campaign, the 
multi-faceted Muslim leadership, also contributed to the 
deteriorating Hindu-Muslim relations across India. The Muslim 
leadership indulged in double talk with one tone reserved for 
the intelligentsia, and non-BJP opposition parties. The other 
voice was used when addressing the Muslim community. To the 
former, Shahabu<idin would say: "I would like to emphasise that 
while we regard the Babri Masjid u.s rightfully belonging to the 
Muslim community, our demand is n<)t for the immediate res- 
toration of the Masjid, but merely to set the judicial process in 
motion in order to determine the rights of the parties concerned 
and therefore the question of title."^’ The argument could not be 
faulted, and if along with such a petition, Shahabuddin re- 
quested parliamentarians and other leaders to join in at a sit-in 
outside Parliament (it was first scheduled for August 10; 1987 
’ ut later postponed by a week, because of a meeting of Aligarh 
Muslim University), it was perfectly plausible that the leaders 


223 



would join in the protest. However, when the Muslim leadership 
addressed themselves to the community, they played down the 
fact that the "immediate restoration" of the mosque to the com- 
munity was neither possible, nor demanded. The Muslim leader- 
ship made little mention of the fact that its demand was 
supported by several political parties and leaders, the majority 
of them being Hindus. The Muslim leadership "gave the impres- 
sion that it was taking on the Hindus as a community and not 
just the VHP."'^’^ 

Eventually, there were some indications within the ranks of 
the new opposition conglomerate that several of its leaders were 
distressed with the vitriol being generated by the VHP. Shortly 
after the Meerut riots, V.P. Singh, who had by then been expelled 
from the Congress and was riding the high horse of the anti-cor- 
ruption campaign, stated that the UP government should ex- 
pedite the process to find a solution to the vexed Ayodhya 
dispute. He suggested that a possible way out could be to declare 
the shrine a National Monument, and that it should be handed 
over to the Archaeological Survey of India. This suggestion was 
however rejected by both the Muslim leadership as well as the 
VHP, as both parties were keen to keep the issue unresolved. 
1 he VHP and the RSS, which had started actively monitoring 
the progress of the Ayodhya campaign, sensed political ascen- 
dancy if the dispute lingered on. Similarly, the Muslim leader- 
ship was contented by being accepted as the sole spokesmen for 
the community, and did not want to lose their pivotal position. 

The VHP however reacted formally to V.P. Singh's sugges- 
tion, and asked him to reconsider his position on the issue if he 
wanted the support of the VHP, in his campaign against the 
Congress. Dau Dayal Khanna the secretary of the Mukti Yagna 
Samiti, wrote Singh a letter on August 17, 1987, asking him to 
reconsider his position on the Ayodhya dispute as it would be 
an impediment in his call to join him in his "crusade against 
corruption". Khanna argued that Singh was making a mistake 
in associating the Muslim leadership in his campaign, as this 


224 



would anger the Hindus. He wrote; "You are demanding mid- 
term elections. For winning the elections you will need the sup- 
port of the Hindu majority. For forming the government you 
will have to depend on Hindu votes to return your candidates. 
In case you and your allies want to declare the place as a National 
Monument, your candidates shall receive a crushing defeat as 
the overwhelming majority of Hindu voters will reject you and 
your combine. I may also inform you that the Shri Ram Janmab- 
hoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti has publicly declared on July 9, 1987 
in Delhi, that if the Ram Janmabhoomi is not restored to the 
Hindus then in the coming elections this will be made an issue 
by the samiti, asking the voters to elect only such candidates 
who declare that they will restore Shri Ram Janmabhoomi, Shri 
Krishna Janmabhoomi, and Shri Vishwanath Temple to the 
Hindu Samaj."^* Khanna also declared that the BJP would not 
support the suggestion of Singh as the party was "committed to 
liberate the three religious places," and that if Singh doubted 
the claim of Khanna, he could "confirm this from the leadership 
of the BJP.'"*® 

Khanna's letter to Singh was widely reported m several 
newspapers, including his contention that the BJP was in agree- 
ment with the VHP agenda. The BJP made no attempt to deny 
the claims c Klianna and Singh, and his new found allies also 
did not seek the policy of the BJP on the question. The non-BJP 
opposition parties v\ ere solely concerned with the anti-corrup- 
tion campaign and did not give much thought to the long-term 
impact of associating the BJP with it. The non-BJP opposition 
parties were lulled into complacency by the repeated assertion 
of BJP leaders that it was committed to "extend its full coopera- 
tion both inside and outside Parliament, to all eftorts for cleans- 
ing the public life of the corrosive influence of stolen money, and 
for removing the corrupt Rajiv government."^^ Advani also in- 
dicated that he was supportive of Singh when he condemned a 
attacK on Singh and his supporters by Congress activists in July 
1987. He also warned that events of the "past few weeks should 


225 



serve as an ominous warning to all democrats that this govern- 
ment would have no qualms in repeating 1975, and clamping a 
second Emergency."^^ The BJP was clearly raising the vision of 
Emergency when persuading other opposition parties to forge 
their ranks, like in the mid-1970s. However, unlike on the earlier 
occasion, the BJP was firm in its resolve to retain its separate 
identity. 

In contrast to the planned orchestration of the VHP, its allies 
and the Muslim leadership, the government's response in ward- 
ing off the snowballing crisis was one of nonchalance. Barely a 
fortnight after communal riots in Meerut had erupted in April, 
1987, Union Home Minister Buta Singh was to write to Uttar 
Pradesh Chief Minister Vir Bahadur Singh, "requesting him to 
work out steps to be taken with a firmly laid out time-table to 
resolve the issue." The failure of the government in realising 
that the Ayodhya issue had transcended the limits of the 
township, and had become a national problem can be further 
gauged from the fact that the group of minivers met and 
decided, that "it would be better to allow the matter to be settled 
at the local level by the exercise of local initiatives."^^ This meet- 
ing was held in the caphal on May 21, at a time when Meerut 
and several other cities, including Delhi, were close to flashpoint 
over the Ayodhya dispute. Yet the three ministers under the 
chairmanship of P.V. Narasimha Rao preferred to pass the matter 
to the state government, and called for local initiatives at a time 
when none of the main actors on the political theatre was locally 
connected with Ayodhya. However, even on the limited question 
of taking "local initiatives," the Union government showed no 
signs of urgency, and the next meeting of the group of ministers 
where some tangible recommendations were made, was held 
five months later on October 8, 1987. The Chief Minister of Uttar 
Pradesh also attended the meeting, where the three Ministers 
opined that; 

(1) Efforts should be made to insulate local opinion from the 
impact of controversy and prepare it to accept the judicial verdict 


226 



(2) It may be best to await the judicial verdict 

(3) A statement could be prepared setting out the decisions 
taken by various groups to determine a common ground and 
come to an agreed settlements^ 

However, as later events demonstrated, neither of the recom- 
mendations of the committee was followed up adequately, and 
the initiative on the Ayodhya dispute remained with the VHP 
and the Muslim leadership. The Union government made no 
attempt to wrest it. 

Declining Influence 

By the end of 1987, it was clear that the Kajiv Gandhi government 
was on its last lap, with the combined opposition front with V.P. 
Singh at its helm being slowly cobbled together, and beginning 
to emerge as the alternative to the Congress. The primary con- 
cern of the ruling party was predictably to extricate itself from 
the financial scandals that had rocked it and also to politically 
counter the emerging opposition front. Little thought was given 
to the Ayodhya dispute, as Congress leaders were more con- 
cerned about causing fissures in the opposition ranks and retain- 
ing its cadre within the party fold. With elections imminent and 
a shaky government, both the VHP and the Muslim leadership 
pitchforked themselves into positions from which they thought 
they could extricate the maxim um benefits ri’om the beleaguered 
government. Syed Shahabuddin had emerged as the 'hate 
s)rmbor of the VHP and its allies, and the former IPS officer 
reveled in his his new found role as the "modern-day Jinnah". 
However, in the £i'*st months of 1988, the Ayodhya issue had not 
percolated down to the level of the people, as agitations 
remained in the realm of 'cleansing India of corruption in high 
places.' But, with the VHP groping for its next strategy, .help 
r?me once again in the form of the Muslim leadership, which in 
January 1988, indicated that it was eager to increase the tempo 
of its agitation by calling for a "long match" to Ayodhya by 

227 



Muslims, to pressurise the government into restoring the mosque 
to them. 

In a resolution adopted on January 24, 1988 the BMMCC 
expressed regret at the "continued insensitivity of the govern- 
ment, to the anguish of the Muslim community at the continued 
illegal occupation of the Babri Masjid and its de facto conversion 
into a temple/' The Muslim leaders charged that their attempts 
at "finding a solution through bilateral talks had received no 
response," and that all attempts of the committee to highlight 
the issue through "democratic and peaceful agitations, bandhs, 
demonstrations... have been totally ignored". The other charges 
against the government included the failure of the cabinet sub- 
committee which did "not even make a serious study of the 
problem," and surrender to the "forces of chauvinism repre- 
sented in particular by the VHP," The resolution also noted that 
the VHP had started preparations to "take over other mosques 
and shrines, adding to our (the Muslims') sense of religious 
insecurity". The BMMCC concluded that given tlie circumstan- 
ces, the "Muslim community had been left with no option but 
to undertake the march to Ayodhya". It was decided at the 
meeting that state unit»'of the committee would be asked to 
formally "intensify the enrollment of volunteers" for the 
proposed march. Shahabuddin also wrote a letter to Rajiv 
Gandhi, in which besides apprising him of the decisions taken 
at this meeting, the BMMCC leaders made two specific demands: 
"Expeditious determination of title by a Special Bench of the 
High Court preferably in South India, and enactment of law to 
protect status of all places of worship as on August 15, 1947."'*^ 

The decision of the BMMCC had been preceded by a meeting 
of the VHP governing council at Tirumala on January 14, 1988. 
At the meeting VHP leaders mounted an attack on the Janata 
Party for wanting the government to enact a legislation that 
would restore "status quo ante of all places of worship as on 
August 15, 1947."'** The VHP leaders warned that "if the Govern- 
ment or some political parties persisted in such attempts, it 


228 



would result in turmoil and serious conflicts in the country."^’ 
The meeting also noted that if the suggested legislation was 
passed, it would lead to the demolition of the Somnath temple 
in Veraval, Gujarat. However, it was evident that the VHP was 
unable to generate widespread popular support for its agitation, 
as the shrine was open to Hindu devotees and the organisation 
was yet unclear about its next step. In early 1988, the VHP had 
not yet come out with a concrete plan of the proposed new 
temple that the organisation wanted to build in Ayodhya. The 
primary agenda in India, as we have earlier seen, was corruption 
charges against the Rajiv Gandhi government. However, the 
BMMCC's call to march to Ayodhya gave the VHP just the 
impetus it needed. The organisation immediately mounted a 
series of low profile campaigns, during which its activists fanned 
out in various parts of India. Leaflets and other publicity material 
were printed by various state units of the VHP. 

Both the VHP and the BMMCC mounted separate campaigns 
not only against each other, but also against the government for 
not settling the dispute in its favour. !n spite of the animosity 
between the two, the parties agreed to negotiate when in early 
1988, the president of the All India Shia Conference, Anjum 
Qader, succeeded in bringing the leaders of the two groups face 
to face ior the first time in the plush environs of the government 
owned Ashok Hotel, in New Delhi. Though not formally in- 
strumental in bringing the two sides across the table, the Union 
government nonetheless had "blessed" the initiative. However, 
the conclave failed to produce any solution. An account of the 
meeting says that the leaders "discussed all possible ways to 
resolve the Ayodhya tangle, including the CPI proposal of con- 
verting it into a national monument, but fciiled to agree. Only 
one thing on which they agreed, was to continue their struggles 
to consolidate themselves in their respective communities."®® 
Meanwhile, the Union government took yet another abortive 
initiative in March 1988, when the Home Minister met the Chief 
Minister of Uttar Pradesh, but little emerged from this meeting. 


229 



It had been more than four years since the VHP had launched 
the Ayodhya agitation. It had also been more than two years 
since the unlocking of the gates^ leading to vociferous protests 
from the Muslim community and jubilations among the sup- 
porters of the VHP, This had led to a series of communal riots 
in various parts of India and there appeared to be no let-up in 
sight. Yet the government was not gripped by a sense of urgency 
to resolve the dispute. Non-BJP opposition parties also, besides 
the ritualistic statements calling upon people to maintain com- 
munal harmony and peacefully reason out the discord, made no 
attempt to lake the issue to the people. Both Hindus and Muslims 
were being addressed solely by the VHP and the Muslim leader- 
ship, and this gave fillip to the communalisation of Indian polity 
throughout the late 1980s. 

By 1988, the RSS loo sensed its lime and formally started 
jockeying for a key position in the political theatre of India. The 
RSS a.ssessed that the VHP had made significant strides since the 
organisation was given a new direction in the earljt 1980s, and 
the BJP had firmly reverted to the traditional policies of the Jana 
Sangh and decided to retain its independent identity while par- 
ticipating in the oppositiorf agitation against Rajiv Gandhi. This 
was the time when the RSS decided to give a greater ideological 
thrust to the Ram temple campaign. The RSS had been active in 
both the agitation for the Ram temple as well as the growing 
campaign against Rajiv Gandhi, yet the organisation was still 
acting through the affiliates VHP and BJP. By mid-1988, the RSS 
came out with a nationwide campaign to mark the birth centen- 
ary of its founder, Hedgewar, falling in 1989. Preparations 
started in early 1988, and the celebrations were initiated towards 
the end of the year. Meetings were held at various levels in 
different towns and cities. Among the first steps was to launch 
a massive project to paint graffiti on walls throughout India. 
There was hardly a town or city where the slogan ‘Garv se kaho, 
hum Hindu hain' {Say with pride that you are a Hindu) was not 
visible on the walls. There were other slogans too and in each of 


230 



those the RSS tried to bolster the "sagging morale" of Hindus. 

Preparatory meetings for the anniversary function were held 
by RSS units at various level$. The consensus in these meetings 
was that the RSS should bolster its pro-Hindu image and articu- 
late the political views that stemmed from its notion of Indian 
society. At one such meeting during the Hedgewar anniversary 
celebrations RSS sarsanghchalak, Balasaheb DeoraS/ declared in 
Jammu that the "root cause of most of the problems in the 
country was the government's policy of appeasing the 
minorities."®' The assertions of Deoras at the end of a three-day 
tour to inaugurate the year-long centenary celebrations in 
Jammu were among the first holistic views on their agenda for 
India expressed by the RSS leadership in the 1980s. The RSS 
leader categorically stated that the organisation "will demand 
the restoration of the Krishna Janmabhoomi and the Vishwanath 
temple to the Hindus, after the success of the movement for the 
liberation of the Ram Janmabhoomi."®^ Deoras also demanded 
the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, a 
demand which was now being regularly made by the BJP. 
Deoras also stated that the Muslims in Kashmir "need to be 
educated that they had been a part of this country for a very 
long time" and that they had "Hindu roots" .®® 

The RSS leader also defended his pro-Hindu stance and 
criticised the political adversaries of the emerging Hindutva clan 
by saying that the "Hindus do not need lectures on secularism. 
India is secular because the Hindus, who are in majority, have 
centuries-old tradition of sarmdharma-sambhav. Deoras also 
asked the critics of the Hindutva idea to see for themselves what 
kind of secularism was practised in Muslim countries " By late 
1988, it was apparent that the RSS had come to dominate the 
Indian political scene in the Indian theatre, and this was being 
done by its leaders and through affiliates like the VHP, BJP and 
a number of other front organisations like the Bajrang Dal, which 
had mushroomed following the VHP decision to give a militant 
edge to the temple agitation. The sangh parivar was now slowly 


231 



becoming a visible reality with leaders of all organisations linked 
to the parent body working and voicing their views in tandem. 
The VHP also widened its plank from the issue of "liberating" 
the three shrines in Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi to the 
"broader question" of the "shape of things to come in India" 
when the Hindutva idea would hold sway. 

This corresponded with the BJP firmly resolving to delink 
itself from the politics of JP, and return to the policies of the Jana 
Sangh a virtual echo of the RSS viewpoint. This was most evident 
in the virulence with which the BJP called for the abrogation of 
Article 370 of the Constitution, and the arguments of several of 
its leaders that the riots that were breaking out in various parts 
of India had more with the Muslim leaders approach in "distort- 
ing history" and the government's inability to "make up its 
mind", than the VHP campaign. The VHP listed several of its 
new demands, including abrogation of Article 370 of the Con- 
stitution, checking "infiltration to India from Bangladesh and 
Pakistan, and repatriation of infiltrators to their respective 
countries."^ The VHP also called for a Uniform Civil Code, ban 
on cow slaughter, "extermination with a heavy hand" of various 
fissiparous organisations, "complete ban on the inflow of finan- 
cial aid to Muslim and Christian missionaries," and protection 
"at all cost, the security of the country and religion and culture 
of the Hindus".^ 

In an attempt to enlist the support of the Hindu clergy, the 
VHP also demanded the "annulment of the laws concerning 
government control of maths and temples".®* This demand was 
a noteworthy shift from the earlier approach of the RSS to 
liberalise Hinduism, and had been a matter of contention be- 
tween the organisation and the religious leaders who suffered 
financially, when the shrines were placed under the control of 
government-managed trusts. By incorporating demands made 
by religious leaders, the RSS was trying to draw the clergy into 
its campaign for the spread of the Hindutva idea. In later years 
also this approach of the RSS would continue. The clergy, in 


232 



tun, would respond by agreeing to the RSS view of making 
Hindu society less rigid, and not oppose the RSS's call to fight 
casteism and uplift low castes. For the RSS and others believing 
in the Hindutva idea, the greatest impediment was the schism 
within Hindu society, owing to the caste order which gave 
more privileges to the higher castes. 

At a time when the advocates of the Hindutva idea were 
embarking on the twin strategies of broadening their plank ar- 
guing that the temple agitation was merely a part of a "broader 
struggle to give Hindus their due in their own country," and 
closing the ranks between the plethora of affiliate organisations, 
the non-BJP political parties were displaying their inability to 
foresee the emerging political scenario. The Congress still 
believed that the RSS continued to support it like it had in the 
1984 general elections provided it allowed the VHP to continue 
with its agitation. The non-Congress opposition parties, in 1988, 
were more concerned with the election year approaching, and 
forging ties between various parties. They were also eager to 
enlist the support of the BJP as it had its own areas of influence. 
Throughout the run-up to the 1989 elections, the non-BJP op- 
position parties and the Congress made no attempt to discuss, 
even informally, the possible rise of the BJP as one of the 
strongest poles of Indian polity and on means to counter it. There 
were, however, a series of statements issued by leaders of the 
two communist parties and some other centrist parties, but there 
was no serious attempt in weeding out the BJP from the opposi- 
tion front. Rather, the focus was on forging an electoral and 
strategic alliance with the BJP without being seen to be having 
one. 

Rift Comes to the Fore 

It :he forces behind the Hindutva idea started consolidating their 
position from mid-1988, the Muslim leadership started speaking 
in several voices as it was rocked by a series of personality 

2.33 



dashes. The traditional Muslim leadership resented the emer- 
gence of Shahabuddin as the virtual spokesman of the com- 
munity, and disagreed with his approach of keeping the 
negotiating avenue open through Buta Singh. The contentious 
issue was the "long march" to Ayodhya. The BMMCC had met 
on May 22, 1988 and decided to organise a "mini march" by its 
leaders on August 12, 1988 and a "long march" by the com- 
munity on October 14 the same year. Both the days dedded upon 
were Fridays and the intention was that Muslims would march 
to the Babri Masjid on Friday afternoon and offer the customary 
jutna namaz to affirm their right over the shrine. However, less 
than a fortnight before the Brst of the two marches, the BMMCC 
decided to postpone the march "in response to a call of the Home 
Minister for a negotiated solution" The meeting was held on 
August 4, 1988 in the capital, but its decision was publicised four 
days later following dissensions within the ranks of the commit- 
tee. 

One of the harshest critics of the committee's decision to 
defer the march was the aging Imam of the capital's Jama Mas- 
jid, Syed Abdullah Bukhari, a one-time supporter of Indira 
Gandhi, who later gave a call in 1977 to Muslims to vote for the 
Janata Party to defeat the Congress. In a statement issued after 
he attended the meeting (he was not formally a member of the 
committee) Bukhari said that he was "bothered by something 
which happened at the meeting". What bothered him was that 
"at the last minute there was a letter from the Home minister 
and the purpose of that letter was to postpone the march."®* 
The Imam argued that he would have acceded to the govern- 
ment request if it had acted on time and despatched the letter 
seeking a postponement, well in advance of the meeting of the 
BMMCC. But since Buta Singh had not done so, his actions 
were suspect and aimed at preventing the Muslims from taking 
to the roads. 

Without naming Shahabuddin, the Imam charged that the 
former IFS officer had succumbed to government pressure in 


234 



igreeing to postpone the inarch. Bukhari said that he had 
''suspected that government pressure will be brought to bear the 
postponement or cancellation of the march...and the same hap- 
pened'".®' These differences continued within the BMMCC as 
Shahabuddin was being perceived as a "stooge" of Buta Singh, 
and had "lost his earlier commitment to get the Babri Masjid 
restored to the Muslims."^ This was in sharp contrast to 1986 
when Shahabuddin was at the forefront of calling for the boycott 
of the Republic Day celebrations, while the Imam and some 
others had been lukewarm to the proposal. Viewed in hindsight, 
it is clear that the basic aim of all Muslim leaders was to further 
their political career, and emerge as the undisputed leader of the 
Muslims. The question of the "restoration of the Babri Masjid" 
was merely a convenient ladder in this rise. 

However, the BMMCC decision to embark on a march to 
Ayodhya, caused the government some concern, as there were 
reports of an escalation in communal violence if the march was 
undertaken. The VHP had also made it known that it would 
"ph)rsically prevent" Muslims from going to the disputed shrine. 
The government was thus left with no other alternative but to 
try to speed up the process of negotiations. Right from the onset, 
it was evident that there was little meeting ground between the 
two warriiig groups, and the parleys were not destined to suc- 
ceed. In these discussions that the government initiated, 
Shahabuddin and Ibrahim Sulaiman Sail a member of Parliament 
from Kerala and leader of the Muslim League, an ally of the 
Congress in the state emerged as important figures who articu- 
lated the viewpoint of the BMMCC, a fact resented by other 
members of the committee who fell ihal Iheir close association 
with the Home Minister was slowly diluting their commitment 
to the agitation. 

The march to Ayodhya was deferred primarily as a result of 
ore such meeting convened by Buta Singh at which the two 
BMMCC leaders were present along with the Chief Minister of 
UP and Khurshid Alam Khan, a Congress MP and former Union 


23.S 



Minister. The basis on which the two BMMCC leaders agreed to 
postpone the inarch, was the "assurance given that the Centre 
and the state government would lend their good offices in the 
resolution of the issues and, take steps to expedite the legal 
process through the High Court to get a final decision in the 
matter in case a negotiated settlement does not come through."^^ 
While critics of Shahabuddin and Sait felt that they were allow- 
ing themselves to be "misled by the government", the duo ar- 
gued that with the chances of a negotiated settlement were bleak, 
and the "best hope for the Muslims was to get the legal process 
expedited, as the Muslims were on the right side of history." “ 

But pressure was mounting on the government from within 
the Congress also. Buta Singh met Muslim MPs of the ruling 
party ten days after the postponement of the march to Ayodhya, 
and he promised that the government would initiate the process 
for a speedy settlement of the legal dispute, and would also move 
towards determining a "cut-off date in respect of ownership of 
religious places."^^ Two days later, on August 19, 1988, the 
BMMCC leaders met with Buta Singh at which the leaders made 
the following points: 

a) Idols should be taken out of the mosque 

b) A solution was not possible through negotiations as the 
hard-liners among the Hindus would not budge from their 
known stand 

c) Administration at the local level needs to be pulled up so 
that it becomes less partisan 

d) Muslims detained under NSA should be released 

The government approach on the Ayodhya issue was that of an 
arbitrator, without taking a definite position of its own. This be- 
came clear in the subsequent days when Buta Singh invited the 
leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti to talks in 
the capital on September 1, 1988. The proceedings of the meeting 
confirmed the contention of the BMMCC leaders, that there was 
little possibility of a settlement through negotiations because of 
the predetermined position on the question of historical reality of 


236 



the disputed shrine, and Ayodhya as the birthplace of Ram. The 
RJBMYS leaders made several points which were given a patient 
hearing by Buta Singh, of which the important ones were: 

a) The question of negotiation does not arise as Ayodhya was 
one of the three most sacred places of Hindus 

b) Scriptures and available historical evidence indicated that 
the shrine had been a temple and used as such over several 
hundreds of years 

c) The 'chabutra' inside the complex indicated that it could 
not have existed in isolation, but must have been part of a larger 
older temple 

d) Certain elements necessary in a mosque like minarets were 
not present in the structure and indicated that the shrine was 
not a mosque 

e) Islam prohibited sharing of a mosque with other religions 

The meeting amply demonstrated that there was little com- 
mon ground between the two warring groups. No settlement 
would be possible unless the government took suo moto action 
as was being demanded by the communist parties, while other 
centrist political parties wanted the conversion of the disputed 
shrine into a National Monument, and handing it over to the 
Archaeological Survey of India. In 1988, the ground reality was 
such that if the Rajiv Gandhi government had opted to bow to 
this demand, the political scenario would have been markedly 
different from that which eventually transpired. Both the sangh 
parivar and the Muslim leadership would have been up in arms 
against the government decision, and would certainly have 
launched separate agitations. The target however, would not 
have been the other group or even people from the other com- 
munity, but the State would have been seen then to be in- 
strumental in the decision. The government would, undoubtedly 
have received support for its efforts to quell the agitations by 
the two groups. It may now appear far fetched, but, if Rajiv 
Gandhi had made the right moves at that time, he would almost 
certainly have been able to circumvent the political formation 


237 



that resulted in his ouster from office in 198$. 

Sadly, Rajiv Gandhi did not have the political acumen to 
explore such a possibility. He still believed that his party would 
stand to benefit by bowing to certain demands of both the Hindu 
and Muslim chauvinists. It must also to be borne in mind that 
neither the VHP, nor any of its affiliates had managed to convert 
the Ayodhya issue into a national dispute which dominated the 
political agenda of the moment. The focal point of politics in 
India in 1988, was still charges of corruption against the Rajiv 
Gandhi government. Moreover, the BJP was only a marginal 
political party and few, even within its own ranks, could have 
anticipated the dramatic growth it was poised to make. This 
debate however, is in the realm of conjectures regarding what 
could have happened if certain decisions had been taken. But, it 
is painfully evident that neither Rajiv Gandhi, nor any of his 
advisors had either the political foresight or the courage and 
conviction to act in any other manner but of managing a crisis. 
Indeed, the entire approach of the Rajiv Gandhi government was 
one of limiting the damage, seizing the initiative on the issue 
was totally passe. As we shall sec later, this approach was 
favoured by successive governments also. 

Meanwhile, continuihg with its policy of keeping a facade 
that negotiations were continuing, and a settlement was not an 
impossibility, Buta Singh, in his meeting with the Hindu leaders, 
requested them to submit documents in favour of their conten- 
tion to the ministry. He also met with the Muslim MPs from the 
Congress again on September 7, 1988 and heard their demand 
that an all-party meeting should be convened so that the 
"standpoint of different parties on this issue becomes clear."*^ 
These MPs also suggested that the government should initiate 
moves to secure the support of all Muslim MPs irrespective of 
party affiliations and issue an appeal to the two warring groups 
to "give up the confrontationist attitude." Very little however 
came out of this meeting as the recommendations were ignored 
by the government and the process of informal and formal talks 


238 



with leaders of the two groups continued. The VHP submitted 
a set of thirteen documents, as proof of their contention that a 
Ram temple existed at the site of Ihc Babri Masjid. This was 
demolished by Babur to erect the mosque. The documents in- 
cluded the various versions of Babur, some revenue records and 
other legal reports which have been discussed in earlier chapters. 

Buta Singh had yet another meeting with Shahabuddin, Sait 
and Khurshid Alam Khan at which the BMMCC leaders again 
reiterated their old positions that the "legal process be expedited 
as it was very unlikely that any common ground would emerge 
in view of the rigid stand of the protagonists of Ram Janmab- 
hoomi."*® The government nevertheless continued with the 
negotiations and forwarded the documents submitted by the 
VHP to Shahabuddin seeking his comments. The documents 
given to Shahabuddin on October .S, 1988 were promptly sent 
back the next day, with his comments that categorically rejected 
the VHP case. Shahabuddin, in his letter to Buta Singh contended 
that the documents did not "contain an iota of evidence on the 
two basic issues seen in a larger perspective: (a) Whether the 
Babri Masjid stands on the birth site of Shri Ramchandraji? (b) 
Whether a pre-existing temple on the site was demolished to 
construct the Babri Masjid". After arguing that each of the docu- 
ments submitted by the VHP failed to conclusively establish its 
case, Shahabuddin said that the papers "do not lake us any 
further. The onus slill lies on the claimant."^’^’ 

Meanwhile, the communal situation in several parts of north 
India deteriorated sharply. Hindu-Muslim riots had broken out 
in Muzaffamagar and Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh. With the Muslim 
leadership going ahead with the plans to stage the "long march" 
to Ayodhya on October 12, 1988, the Chief Minister of UP feared 
that if the march was staged, "it would further aggravate the 
situation."*^ Faced with the prospects of fresh riots in several 
other parts of the state, the Home Minister convened another 
meeting with the BMMCC leaders and after promising to ex- 
pedite the legal process "after the festival season" got over, Buta 


239 



Singh succeeded in getting the march postponed inde^itely. 
However, this posed problems for the leadership of the BMMCC 
as several Muslim leaders, led by the Shahi Imam of the capital's 
Jama Masjid and other Muslim leaders from Uttar Pradesh, ac- 
cused Shahabuddin and Sait of having compromised the "lot of 
Muslims by striking a deal with Bula Singh."^ 

The schism which had been visible for several months now, 
came out into the open and on November 26, 1988 several Mus- 
lim leaders parted ways with the group led by Shahabuddin, 
accusing him of adopting dilatory tactics. At a two-day conven- 
tion held in the Jama Masjid these leaders declared their intent 
of forming another organisation the All India Babri Masjid Ac- 
tion Committee and announced their resolve not to act in tandem 
with Shahabuddin. Several speakers at the meeting derided the 
former IPS officer for not being "sincere to the cause of the quam" 
and instead "having vested interests."'’*^ The convention was also 
noteworthy, as it saw the final elevation of Syed Ahmed Bukhari, 
Abdullah Bukhari's son and the Imam-designate. The mib Imam 
had been active since the mid-1980s and had even formed the 
Adam Sena a band of militant Muslim youth without much 
success after the Meerut fiots. But, in November 1980, Ahmed 
Bukhari had all the makings of an assertive Muslim youth leader 
who minced no words when he criticised Shahabuddin. 

With the Muslim leadership a divided lot, and other political 
parties failing to foresee the real intention of the advocates of 
the Hindutva idea, the VHP started planning new strategies 
which would ensure mass following and support for its agita- 
tion. This was recognised by Buta Singh who communicated to 
Rajiv Gandhi that a "noteworthy recent development has been 
a split in the ranks of the Babri Masjid activists and the formation 
of a parallel body, on the one hand, and the adoption of a more 
aggressive stance by the protagonists of the Ram Janmabhoomi 
on the other."'” However, even at this stage the government 
strategy did not shift from the policy of continuing with the 
attempt to bring the two warring sides to the negotiating table 


240 



and manage the crisis by last-minute requests to the two groups. 
With the country preparing to enter the election year, the VHP 
organised a week-long Ram Janki Rath Yatra in the first fortnight 
of December 1988 in Madhya Pradesh, to "create Hindu awaken- 
ing" over the Ayodhya issue. This was followed by yet another 
meeting between Buta Singh and VHP leaders, at which the 
Home Minister communicated to the VHP, Shahabuddin's 
response to the VHP documents. 

The VHP leaders maintained at this meeting that questions 
of faith were beyond negotiation, and "need not be proved". The 
VHP position on the Ayodhya issue was one such, and the onus 
lay with the government to convince the Muslim leadership 
give up its claim on the disputed shrine, and agree to it being 
handed over to the VHP for building a temple. The government 
made no effort to argue with the VHP that its approach was 
irrational and beyond the pale of law. Rather, it simply com- 
municated the VHP sentiment to the Muslim leadership. 
Throughout the period of negotiations initiated at the behest of 
Buta Singh in the second half of 1988, the Union government at 
best functioned as a post box, where the two warring groups 
came and delivered their viewpoint. There was no attempt on 
the part of the government, to prepare its own position paper 
on the issue, and suggest a method by which the dispute could 
be resolved. This .ambivalence of the government was motivated 
by its desire not lo alienate any of the chauvinistic groups, and 
was prompted by the hope that if the feelings of the two groups 
could be assuaged, the Congress would get the electoral support 
from both the VHP and the Muslim leadership. That however 
did not happen, c n i was in fact, a Iheoietical improbability, but 
the Congress leadership did not have the political maturity to 
comprehend the complexities w'oven around the Ayodhya dis- 
pute. However, even at this stage the Ayodhya dispute had yet 
J ' become a raging national controversy even though several 
riots had taken place in India over the issue. The VHP which 
had made clear its plans to build a new temple after demolishing 


241 



the Babri Masjid, had not yet devised its future action plan. 
Similarly the Muslim groups were mainly concerned about 
preventing any action of the VHP, and were agitating only to 
keep the pressure on the government for speeding up the Judicial 
process. 

Precipitating Matters 

Two announcements on successive days by the two warring 
groups however, set the agenda on the Ayodhya front for 1989. 
The newly formed AIBMAC declared in the capital on January 
31 that It was forming hijajati dastas or 'defence squads' for 
protecting the mosque from the attempts of the VHP activists to 
demolish it. Ihc decision, taken al the end of a meeting, en- 
visaged the formation of secret groups, who would be "trained 
adequately to sneak into the inner ring" of the shrine and "main- 
tain a vigil" to prevent "assembly ot VHP activists with the aim 
of demolishing the mosque."^^ The other decision v\^s taken by 
the VHP at Allahabad where the annual kumbh mela was being 
held. Succeeding to huddle together a large group of Hindu 
religious leaders for a sant sammclan (conclave of Hindu leligious 
leaders), the VHP announced its most ambitious programme till 
date. But even when the plan was unveiled on February 1, 1989 
there were few to anticipate the lightning effect the programme 
would have in the growth of not )ust the VHP, but of the entire 
sangh parivar. The plan made public, included the decision to 
lay the foundation of the new temple at Ayodhya on November 
9, 1989 on the occasion of the annual festival of devuththan 
ekadasht (a religious festival when the gods are supposed to have 
risen) in Ayodhya. The VHP also declared that to mobilise sup- 
port for the foundation-laying ceremony, named shilanyas, 
another programme would be launched from September 1989. 

In this programme, called shila pujan, specially prepared bricks 
with Shri Ram written on them, would be consecrated in several 
thousand cities, towns and villages following which they would 

242 



be transported to Ayodhya, in processions to be used later in 
constructing the temple. There were few to anticipate the lighting 
impact of the programme. However, one of the few who was 
able to foresee the likely impact was Shahabuddin who said that 
with "this programme, the VHP has ensured that it shall never 
have to look backwards on their road to Ayodhya."^^ The com- 
ment was prophetical, but by early 1989, the process of 
Shahabuddin's marginalisation had begun, and there were few 
to heed his warning. 

By the time the sanl sammelan concluded at Allahabad, the 
entire sangh parivar had started functioning like a well-oiled 
machine with each affiliate playing its part to perfection. The 
parent body, — the RSS — was preparing itself for the final 
stages of the Hedgewar birth anniversary celebrations, and was 
mounting the final campaign to canvass against the "continuous 
appeasement of minorities by previous governments," and on 
the need to forge Hindu solidarity. The BjP "after dabbling with 
secularism and Gandhian socialism for a while had returned to 
its original Hindu moorings". The BjP leaders were increasingly 
talking about the rise of the Hindu vote, and made no bones that 
they wanted to cash in on it. Atal Behari Vajpayee, who sym- 
bolised the secular facade of the BJP, declared that in the elections 
in 1984, "th: Congress had played the Hindu card, but this time 
they are not going to get away with it; we are going to play it 
better". Vajpayee iollowed this comment made at Udaipur 
during a party session, with another more strident in tone. On 
April 2, 1989 while addressing a Hedgewar birth centenary rally 
in the capital's Ram Lila maidan "Vajpayee used all the slogans 
of RSS and declared that Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue 
is an election issue. Apart from voicing his support for virtual 
Hindu Rashtra (in the name of consolidating the principle of 
Hindutva) he issued a warning to the minorities to either give 
aw their distinct identity, or face the worst." However, even 
though the BJP leaders had been issuing statements supportive 
of the VHP agitation, it was yet to formally include the issue in 


243 



its agenda. The time was not yet ripe for such a move! 

With the RSS canvassing for the Hindutva idea in a systematic 
manner, and the BJP projecting itself as the political articulator 
of the same ideology, the VHP, in 1989, was engaged in convert- 
ing its temple agitation into "one of the biggest mass movements 
in independent India." By the end of the year, it was clear that 
the entire sangh parivar had been able to fulfil its objective when 
the BJP articulating the Hindutva idea succeeded in winning 88 
parliamentary seats, a quantum leap from its earlier figure of 2. 
Barely twenty days before the elections, the VHP successfully 
completed the foundation-laying ceremony, after being able to 
assemble thousands of supporters at Ayodhya. This virtually 
forced the Central government to allow the ceremony when it 
saw that slate violence would have to be unleashed, if the 
ceremony had to be prevented. By the time the election results 
were announced and as even BJP leaders expressed "surprise at 
the stupendous performance" of the party, it was clear that an 
issue, which had been considered peripheral by the majority of 
political forces in the country till some weeks ago, v^ould come 
to dog the nation for several more years. The Hindutva idea was 
out in the open and it was clear that it was no longer merely the 
question of the shrine at Xyodhya. Rather, the moot point in 
December 1989, when the new Prime Minister V.P. Singh, was 
sworn into office, was the extent to which the Hindutva idea 
could be contained, and whether the bandwagon would stop at 
Ayodhya or would roll on to other towns where similar shrines 
had been listed by the VHP. The single most important factor 
that led to this spectacular growth of the organisations wedded 
to the Hindutva idea, w'ere the twin programmes of shilanyas 
and shila pujan and the VHP had to be credited that it planned 
the two programmes in a meticulous manner, unmatched by any 
other political force of the time. 

But, when the shila pujan programme was announced, it was 
considered to be farcical and ludicrous. The VHP announced that 
it would manufacture tens of thousands of bricks with Shri Ram 


244 



inscribed on them in several brick kilns in India from where they 
would be distributed to all villages, towns and cities in the 
country. Starting on an appointed day, the bricks euphemistical- 
ly called Ram Shilas would be consecrated through a special 
religious ritual, in which the Hindus of the village or the urban 
locality, would participate. After the consecration ceremony, the 
bricks would be carried in proce.ssions to bigger collection 
centres, where bricks from the region would be gathered. From 
these local collection centres, the bricks would be carted to bigger 
collection centres in the zone and would later be transported in 
trucks, escorted by slogan-raising youth volunteers dra\yn from 
the Bajrang Dal, to Ayodhya. The VHP declared that the shila 
pujan programme had been decided to "give a sense of belong 
ing to the Hindus at large However, the response of both the 
government and other political adversaries of the RSS clan was 
not visible. While some ignored the programme when it was first 
announced, others derided and made a fun of it saying that it 
would end in a massive failure. Only Shahabuddin was consis- 
tent in his demand that the processions with bricks should not 
be allowed and banned. He also warned various non-PJP politi- 
cal parties but by the time they heeded, it was too late in the day 
and trouble had set in on a massive scale. 

For the VHP, 1989 was a very important year as it was to com- 
plete twenty-five years of existence in August, the day when the 
birth of Krishna is 'elebrated by 1 lindus as Janmashtarni. The year 
was projected by liic leadership as the "take-off year for the VHP 
for expansion, growth and creating Hindu consolidation and ener- 
gisation."^^ The agitation on the Ram temple at Ayodhya was seen 
as a programme whose "programme implementation offers the 
scope of being reta. «^>ed and converted to a permanent infrastruc- 
ture" 7^' The VHP leadership knew that the temple agitation would 
attract a large number of neo-converts to the sangh parivar fold, 
and unless special efforts were made to inculcate in them the value 
s v'>lem of the RSS clan, they would begin to drift away. This plan 
would have " three pillars: ' Assembly regularity'; ' the temple'; and 


245 



the ^Dharmacharyas'/'^ 

The first programme was a system to increase the interaction 
between the neo-converts and the traditional leadership as also 
others who had started believing in the Hindutva idea of late. It 
involved regular meetings with different timings and could be 
held in the "afternoon for ladies and night for men". The aim 
was to develop these assemblies as regular places for "children's 
sanskar (culture) activity, youth exercises, satsang (religious as- 
semblies) and social service nuclear". Focus on the temple was 
meant to convey that "temples have been the forts of Hindu 
society's corporate existence". However, the problem, as seen by 
the VHP, was that some of them had "shrunk to worship func- 
tion only," and it had to be "reversed". On the third programme 
the VHP noted with a certain amount of glee, that the "traditional 
recluses have now come into the towns and are leading the 
Hindu society. I hey have bypassed their individual differences, 
and identified the areas of common contribution for the well- 
being of Hindu society."^** I’oiscd for a quantum growth, the 
VHP leadership was aware that it would not be able to get the 
support of a large number of Hindus unless the Hindu religious 
leaders were drawn into the organisation's fold which is why 
the VHP pledged that the religious leaders will be the "third 
pillar", of all programmes of the VHP in its silver jubilee year. 

The VHP was also conscious of the fact that the rigid structure 
of Hinduism was a major impediment in the way of Hindu 
consolidation. This was the main reason why it had been cam- 
paigning among the religious leaders since 1982 after the 
Mcenakshipuram conversions on the need to remove un- 
touchability, and welcome the other lower-caste groups into the 
mainstream of the Hindu pantheon. This view of the sangh 
parivar's leadership was noted that "untouchability, row of caste 
and creed, dowry, etc, are facing eradication due to self-inspired 
and VHP-arranged consensus". With a daunting task chalked 
out for itself, the VHP also planned the organisational inputs 
required required to achieve the objectives. The network was 


246 



expanded by appointing VHP workers in "every up-khand (sub- 
area) and noting that such a vast network would require 
meticulous organisational backup, listing, documentations, 
registrations, and particulars of committee members and in- 
charge karyakartas (officials). Invitees' lists and mailing lists will 
be maintained. Visits, contacts, correspondences will require a 
high degree of promptness and regularity."^ 

The VHP also advised its cadre to esche^v sectarianism by 
saying that other Hindu "organisations must be co-opted and 
VHP workers should collaborate with them". All activities of the 
VHP would have to be conducted in an organised manner, and 
each unit must ensure that halls are "made available in all dis- 
tricts where 200-250 people can gather". The leadership advised 
that if there were situations where the VHP could not organise 
the halls gratis, then they should even hire them. "The hall must 
bear the name board of VHP, to be used in the morning for 
physical exercise of youth, the yoga-iihiksha, (training in yoga) 
kendras (centres) for adults, sanskar kcndras (cultural centres) for 
children, for ladies in the afterntxjn and assembly in the night."**’ 
All these activities of the VHP were to be accompanied by "dis- 
tribution of literature, stickers, pictures, lockets, etc". At one level 
it appeared that the VHP was glaring itself up for a virtual war, 
and was leaving nothing unplanned not even finding funds 
which the organisation's leaders said had to be "gathered". Such 
a high level of organisation, planning and preparedness was 
unmatched in the entire political theatre of India in 1989, and 
was instrumental in positioning the sangh parivar in a pivotal 
position by the end of the year. 

With the organisation geared up, the VHP trained its sights 
on successfully laui. :hing the shila pujan programme. An es- 
timated four lakh bricks were manufactured in various brick 
kilns in India, and carted in small lots to various parts of the 
country. As the deadline for the launch of the programme grew 
ncu’ apprehensions were voiced regarding the possible fallout 
of the marches with the bricks. However, the government made 


247 



no effort to stop either the processions or the ritualistic consecra- 
tion ceremony. Meanwhile, the VHP continued to list the support 
of most revered Hindu religious leaders tor its programme. The 
organisation succeeded in enlisting the support of the 
Shankaracharya of Badrinath who performed shila pujan at his 
Himalayan hermitage on August 27. This was followed by 
similar consecration rituals conducted by the Shankaracharya of 
Kanchi and several other important Hindu religious leaders. 
Shila pujan was to start all over the country on September 30 
and preparations started reaching a frenzied pace by the begin- 
ning of the month. 

Regional organisers, drawn from the RSS fold and specially 
appointed for the programme, coordinated with each other and 
special efforts were made to make inroads in the southern states 
where the agitation was yet to gain ground. Reports of shila 
pujan being done by Hindus living abroad also started pouring 
in. The international wing of the VHP had started functioning 
in an orchestrated manner, and the specially inscribed bricks 
started reaching the capital by the middle of September. They 
were first displayed to the media, and later kept at vantage 
offices of the VHP and taken out in processions through the city. 
Meanwhile, the demand of\ banning the programme was grow- 
ing. There were also interpretations that the Allahabad High 
Court ruling on the question of maintaining status quo of the 
disputed shrine also prevented shila pujan, a contention dis- 
puted by the VHP. Religious leaders were also enlisted by stale 
level units to undertake religious marches through the cities and 
other towns to canvass support for the shila pujan programme. 
One such was taken out in Delhi between September 17 and 22 
which culminated at a large rally in the capital's Boat Club. 
Temple managers in all colonies of the cities were requested by 
the religious leaders to allow the shila pujan ritual to be per- 
formed in the temples. For the rally on September 22, the VHP 
organised buses to cart the Hindus to the Boat Club and also 
solicited donations. Donations were also sought during the shila 


248 



pujan programme through the sale of specially printed coupons 
in denominations of Rs 1.25, Rs 5.00, and Rs 10.00. In this way 
it was ensured that every person who came to attend the con- 
secration ceremony contributed at least Rs 1.25.*’ 

The shila pujan programme began on a cautious note on 
September 30 in what the VHP claimed five and a half lakh 
villages and localities in India. Another specially arranged ritual, 
Shri Ram Mahayagna, was also performed in 6,600 regional 
centres. However, with elections round the corner, trouble 
started surfacing as the bricks wended their way from villages 
to the collecting centres, and were later taken to the urban centres 
from where they were to head for Ayodhya. In the initial phases 
of the shila pujan programme, people turned out primarily out 
of curiosity because such a religious ritual had never been wit- 
nessed by them. Ordinary bricks were being venerated, th^y 
were wrapped in the symbolic red silk scarves and vermilion 
marks were put on them. Offerings were made in front of the 
bricks and for the lakhs of devotees, who assembled in the 
temples where the rituals were being conducted, the bricks sym- 
bolised the temple at Ayodhya. This was true of even people 
who had never been to the temple-town they were however 
helped in their visualisation by the hordes of VH? activists who 
were preser^t tt- ensure smooth completion of the consecration 
ritual. The activists were also to physically "escort" the bricks to 
the collection centris from the temples, where they were con- 
secrated, and later take them to Ayodhya in specially hired 
trucks. The youngsters .sported saffron bandannas and .shouted 
aggressive slogans which were predictably resented by Muslims, 
especially as in several low^is and cities, the route of the proces- 
sions was finalised i.' manner that ensured passage through a 
Muslim majority locality. 

Prior to the launch of the shila pujan programme there had 
been sufficient political din that warranted the government to 
inojate action. The I ligh Court judgment of August 14, 1989 was 
binding on all parties, more importantly the government, as it 


249 



had to ensure that status quo of the entire disputed property this 
included not just the Babri Masjid, but also several plots around 
it. The government was gripped with two problems: It had to 
ensure the rule of law and prevent violation of the High Court 
order, as any non-compliance of the judicial order would damage 
the image of the Congress in the election year. The ruling party 
also felt it could not politically risk any use of force against the 
VHP activists as it could potentially alienate the Congress from 
the Hindu voters. The VHP leadership on its part knew that it 
was in a winning position and as early as June 1989, it declared 
that there was no possibility of the programme at Ayodhya being 
deferred. Elections were declared in October, and even before 
its formal notification, the RSS clan anticipated it and realised 
that the government would not be in position to forcibly prevent 
the programme for fear of getting isolated from the Hindu voters. 
The responsibility of ensuring the successful completion of the 
shilanyas programme was thus with the government. It was the 
government's obligation to find a way out to declare the 
shilanyas ceremony a lawful one, that did not violate any judicial 
order. Efforts in this direction were made by Buta Singh from 
September 1989 itself. There however, is no evidence to suggest 
that he was acting on his own volition. All his actions were 
endorsed both by Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao in his 
capacity as the chairman of the cabinet sub-committee on Ayod- 
hya. 

Barely twenty days before the VHP was scheduled to kick off 
its shila pujan programme, Buta Singh met with the Chief Min- 
ister of Uttar Pradesh to review the decision in the light of the 
High Court injunction of August 14, after the title suits were 
transferred to the l.ucknow Bench of the High Court. A Home 
Ministry background paper which recorded the decision at this 
meeting underlined the inability of the government to take 
strong preventive measures to thwart the VHP programme. The 
Union Home Minister and the Chief Minister of the most 
populous state of India, concluded that the "best course would 

250 



be to impress upon the VHP not to force the issue as the matter 
was pending before the High Court."*^ This conclusion of the 
two Congress leaders on September 10, 1989 stands in contrast 
to the VHP contention that shilanyas ceremony was "not just to 
lay the foundation of the Ram temple, but of a Hindu Rashtra,"*’ 
However, it suited the VHP to heed to the implorings of the 
government, provided the shilanyas ceremony was declared 
lawful. On September 27, 1989 Buta Singh succeeded in getting 
an assurance from the VHP that it would not violate the High 
Court order and would also seek the clearance of the local ad- 
ministration while taking out the shila processions, and that the 
organisation would agree to make changes if the proposed route 
jeopardised communal harmony. 

The agi'eement reached at this meeting was duly signed by 
senior VHP leaders who attended the meeting. The Home Minis- 
try paper makes it amply clear that the government had decided at 
that stage that the shilanyas ceremony could not be prevented and 
the best way out for it would be to allow the ceremony and argue 
that the High Court order was not violated. The note records the 
telling comment that at the meeting the "I lome Mini.ster indicated 
that there may not be any objection to the VHP programme," and 
that after the Central government made it clear that "it would not 
be averse to permit shilanyas in a controlled manner, the State 
government would review their strategy and action plan".**^ The 
Congress hoped that by permitting the shilanyas ceremony, it 
would be able to garner the Hindu votes b)' claiming to have en- 
sured the loundation-laying ceremony. The ruling party also cal- 
culated that it could approach the Muslim electorate with the 
argument that it had protected the disputed shrine. In 198^), it mat- 
tered little to the government that the VHP programme vit^lated 
the rules of the Ayodhya Special Area Development Authority the 
local body that is entrusted with the development of Ayodhya as a 
modem urban centre would be violated by the shilanyas 
ceremony, as the mles made it mandatory for any person or or- 
ganisation to get the building plans approved from the ASAD A, 


251 



before starting any form of construction. 

One of the prime factors for the government's inability to 
prevent the shilanyas ceremony, and disallow the shila pujan 
and the subsequent processions with the bricks, was the visible 
consolidation of the sangh parivar. It has been noted earlier, that 
the RSS clan geared itself up from the election year (from late 
1988). The RSS was engaged in canvassing support for its concept 
of nationalism using the birth centenary of its founder 
Hedgewar. The VHP was busy in generating support for the 
shilanyas and shila pujan programmes. By early 1989, the BJP 
had also pitchforked itself into a pivotal position in the anti-Con- 
gress political front. The party was sharing power in Haryana 
with the Lok Dal and from the beginning of 1989, it leaders also 
started articulating the demand of the VHP. The BJP which did 
not attend the Home Minister's meeting with the opposition 
leaders on March 29, 1989 "even though a request had been sent" 
to Advani, however, participated in the discussions on May 15- 
1 6, at which the BJP delegation informed Buta Smgh, that it was 
sceptical of a judicial settlement, but had no disagreement with 
the attempt to reach a negotiated settlement. However, the most 
politically significant ^vent in relation to the Ayodhya dispute 
took place on June 11, 1989 at a small town called Palampur, a 
hill resort in the state of Himachal Pradesh. 


Adopting Ram 

The occasion was a regular quarterly meeting of the BJP execu- 
tive to prepare itself for the ensuing elections, and by the time 
the three-day session concluded, the BJP had stated its political 
agenda and made it clear that in the election year, it would 
collaborate with other non-Congress parties, except the com- 
munist parties and Muslim League, to strive for the defeat of 
Rajiv Gandhi in the forthcoming elections. The BJP also made it 
clear that while it would work towards forging a joint anti-Con- 
gress front, but not strive to repeat the Janata experiment, and 

252 



would instead "maintain its distinct identity". This distmct 
identity of the BJP would be underscored by highlighting the 
party's "forthright denunciation of the pseudo-secularism prac- 
tised by the Congress and other parties for the sake of bloc 
minority votes, and its unequivocal stand on issues like Article 
370, Minorities Commission, Ram Janmabhoomi," which Advani 
argued had "earned the respect of millions in the country".*-'’ 
Advani detailed nis perception of the political situation in 
India in June 1989, and in his opening remarks contended that 
the executive session was likely to be the "last but one" conclave 
of senior party leaders before the elections. He added that it 
would be "appropriate to devote some time to evaluating the 
pre-election scene, and assessing the BJP's own preparations for 
the battle". The Rajiv Gandhi government had failed "on all 
fronts. Both in terms of competence as well as in terms of in- 
tegrity, it is the worst government since Independence. The 
people, therefore, are longing for a change". However, Advani 
was also clear that the ouster of the Congress government was 
not the only goal of the BJP, The party president was also 
categorical in asserting that the other aim of the party was to 
"acquire a sizable presence in the 1990 Lok Sabha, so that 
whether in power, or outside, the party can play the role of the 
stabilising nucleus in Indian politics". Advani argued that the 
key in the forthcotning elections lay in northern, western and 
central India and the "parties which really matter in this region 
are the BJP and the Janata Dal". There was thus a need to forge 
an electoral relationship with the JD. However, there were 
problems because the JD was "not a single, homogeneous party. 
It is a condominium' rj diverse factions". What further compli- 
cated matters was that while some of the factions "appreciate 
BJP's rc,lc in Indian politics, and are keen to cooperate, some 
others can hardly conceal their animus towards us". Advani 
futiher cautioned his party colleagues that given the animosity 
of a certain section of the JD to the BJP, it had to "move ahead 
with cautious optimism,'' while working out an electoral 


253 



relationship with the JD. 

In its effort to underline the BJP's different identity from other 
non-Congress parties, the executive adopted a formal resolution 
demanding that the disputed shrine at Ayodhya must be 
"handed over to the Hindus". In the first formal adoption of the 
Ayodhya issue in its political agenda, the BJP charged the Con- 
gress and other political parties with demonstrating "callous 
unconcern" on the "sentiments of the overwhelming majority in 
the country the Hindus". The Palampur resolution on Ayodhya 
contended that the VHP was right in claiming the shrine and 
held that the "nature of controversy is such, that it just cannot 
be sorted out by a court of law". The resolution made no effort 
to hide the BJP's notion of nationalism, and cited the instance of 
the government-aided repair of the Somnath temple after Inde- 
pendence in which Patel had played a crucial role. Patel was 
increasingly being projected by the BJP as the true nationalist in 
place of Nehru, who was considered to be responsible for the 
view that secularism in the 1980s "had come to b« equated with 
an allergy to Hinduism, and a synonym for Muslim appease- 
ment". Secularism, the BJP argued, could not mean a "rejection 
of our history and cultural heritage,"**'’ and virtually contended 
that till the time the Ayodhya dispute remained unresolved to 
the satisfaction of the Hindus, the basic issue of the nature and 
content of Indian nationalism would remain a contentious issue. 

The importance of the Palampur resolution on Ayodhya can be 
gauged from the fact that four years after the declaration, the BJP 
declared that the decision to support the VHP agitation was the 
" turning point" in the agitation for the Ram temple as by the "mid- 
dle of 1 989, the Ayodhya movement had reached a state and status 
in Indian public life when it was no more possible to ignore its ef- 
fect in politics, including electoral politics".**^ The present assess- 
ment of the BJP is in contrast to the repeated statements of the BJP 
leaders during the 1989 elections and in the weeks following the 
results when they commented on the BJP's spectacular growth, 
when they repeatedly stated that the Ayodhya issue was not an 


254 



electoral one. However, the BJP contended four years after it for- 
mally adopted the Ram temple issue, that it was forced to join the 
agitation because of the "permanent avocation of appeasing M us- 
lim leaders" by the Congress. The BJP incorporated the Ayodhya 
agitation into its agenda to "educate the public on how the Con- 
gress was taking an anti-Hindu stance under the veneer of 
secularism, to appease the communal Muslim leadership." 

Analysing the political developments in India after the BJP 
adopted the VHP agitation in Us agenda, it is clear that all non- 
BJP parties failed to evaluate the likely impact of the Palampur 
resolution. None of the non-BJP parties concluded that for the 
BJP the "Ayodhya movement had become a powerful expression 
of the disapproval of the post-Independence distortion of nation- 
al politics."*’ The Congress believed that it could limit the 
damage to its electoral prospects, if it could allow shilanyas and 
also ensure the protection of the Babri Masjid. Other non-Con- 
gress opposition parties also failed to take note of the develop- 
ments on the Ayodhya front, concerned solely as they were with 
the twin issues of "corruption in high places" and ousting Rajiv 
Gandhi. In the political theatre of India in 1989, only the BJP was 
concerned about long-term developments, the other parties were 
not looking beyond the impending elections; The Congress 
presumed ihat it could get the votes of both Hindu and Muslim 
fundamentalists; and the National Front was willing to ally with 
any other political combine solely to defeat the Congress. The 
communist parties articulated the danger of electorally allying 
with the BJP, but even they were enveloped by the desire to see 
the back of Rajiv Gandhi and did not stress on their view to 
isolate the BJP beyond a point. The result was that when the 
results of the November 1989 elections were declared it was 
evident that the Ram temple issue had emerged as the "central 
issue in national politics and set the political agenda of the nation 
in the years that followed". 

The "phoenix-like rise" of the BJP was considered to be "as 
spectacular and significant, if not more, as the defeat of the 


255 



Congress"^ in the 1989 elections. With 88 members in the new 
Lok Sabha, the BJP had nearly equaUed the performance of the 
Jana Sangh in 1977, when the earlier avatar of the BJP had bagged 
96 parliamentary seats. What made the results of the elections 
more heartening for the BJP was that unlike 1989, it was not a 
constituent of a political conglomerate, but had retained its dis- 
tinct identity. It had spelt out its ideological orientation, and also 
highlighted that it was dissimilar from that of other political 
parties. It was clear that the BJP was sure to "pli^y the role of the 
backseat driver to whoever occupies the driver's seat."’’ It had 
been known for several months before the elections were 
declared on October 17, 1989 that the BJP would do creditably 
in the elections "but even for the biggest optimist, the party's 
showing had come as a surprise."’^ 

That the BJP had gained greatly from the Ram temple issue was 
evident, but it was apparent that the Ayodhya agitation was only 
the immediate emotive aspect of the BJi^'s political plank. The 
speeches by the BJP leaders during the campaign indicated that 
the Ayodhya issue was merely a part of a political perspective 
that would go on to question the legitimacy of the labels like 
secular, communal, and National. Commentators observed that 
the 1989 elections were as much the story of Rajiv Gandhi's fall 
from popular grace, as the growth of the BJP. The BJP had 
emerged on the scene after "consigning the pretentious jargon 
of the earlier period to the past, and metaphorically unfurling 
the flag of unapologetic Hinduism."’’ There was virtual consen- 
sus among commentators that the BJP had "at last caught up 
with its identity, spelling out its ideological position, without a 
trace of compromise and expediency".’^ It was argued by pro- 
BJP commentators that after "42 years of independence, the 
Hindu wonn was turning, and wisdom demands that the 
Hindus' aspirations to be masters in their own country are fruit- 
fully and constructively channelised".’® The 1989 elections were 
also significant for the inroads the BJP made into hitherto non- 
traditional areas of support. The party had extended its support 


256 



base beyond the traditional support base of the Jana Sangh upper 
caste Hindu traders. The 1989 elections also led to another fun- 
damental development that would be of great importance in 
later years: A large section of the intelligentsia, which had grown 
up in the Nehruvian model, started agreeing with the political 
articulation of the sangh parivar and the BJP found supporters 
in the 'intellectual elite' of the country. This support was to prove 
crucial in later years as it provided an intellectual facade to the 
machinations of the RSS clan. 

However, the 1989 elections failed to provide a majority in 
Parliament to any of the parties. In the last week of November 
it was evident that the phase of coalition governments had 
started in India when the chairman of the National Front and 
Telugu Desam leader, N.T. Kama Kao, wrote to Advani seeking 
the support of his party in forming a coalition government of 
the Front. The BJP offered "general but critical support" to the 
government but not before setting some preconditions; ITic 
government had to realise that while there were some areas of 
agreement with the BJP, there were also sharp differences over 
issues like "Article 370, Human Rights Commission, Uniform 
Civil Code, etc," and that the "government should confine its 
governmental programme to issues on which we (the BJP and 
NF) agree" . The second precondition was more direct: The Janata 
Dal, the "main con.'Jtituenl of the NF since its launching, has been 
consciously trying ‘.o convey to the people an impression that it 
regards the BJP as a communal party". 'This was not acceptable 
to Advani who demanded that the JD must declare that it does 
not "regard the BJP as communal and that would go a long way 
in removing the mi^civings in our rank and file".’* The BJP was 
demanding its pound of flesh in the form of political credibility, 
and for the new government matters appeared to be lough from 
the beginning propped up as it was from both the Right in* the 
form of the BJP, and the Left in the form of the communist parties 
and its allies. 

The support that the NF sought and secured from the BJP was 

257 



crucial to the BJPs emergence as a political force as it under- 
scored the changed scenario where the party was no longer 
considered a political pariah. What made matters easier for the 
BJP and in reverse tougher for the NF and the communist parties 
was the fact that the BJP was less concerned with the stability of 
the government that the other two groupings. The BJP by now 
started having visions of coming to power at the Centre, and this 
was in contrast to the aspiration of the communist parties who 
were unable to look beyond the regional pockets of its influence. 
Even as the new government assumed office in the first week of 
December, it was apparent that the BJP would dictate terms to 
the government and if it did not meet the demands of the BJP, 
the support accorded to it would be withdrawn. Such a choice 
however was not available for the communists, who felt ideologi- 
cally closer to the Janata Dal. The BJP had made great strides in 
a matter of months, and the single most important factor in this 
"phoenix-like rise" of the party was undoubtedly the twin 
programmes of shila pujan and shilanyas. 

The VHP secured the support of nearly one lakh Hindu 
religious leaders for the twin programmes, when they assembled 
at Allahabad for the annual Kumbh Mela in January 1989. The 
decision was made public on February 1 and later reiterated at 
another meeting of the religious leaders associated with the VHP 
agitation on May 28 after a two-day conclave. However, the 
government failed to visualise the impact of the twin progi’am- 
mes and did precious little except trying to assuage the VHP 
leaders by indicating that the shilanyas ceremony would be al- 
lowed provided the government could come up with a face- 
saving device, to claim that no judicial order had been violated 
by the programme. Buta Singh claims that the government was 
primarily concerned to somehow "save the situation," and he as 
Home minister in the crucial period was "tr 3 dng to defuse the 
situation which had surcharged every village in the country".^ 
By his own admission, Buta Singh admits that the shila pujan 
had been a very successful programme and as the date of the 


258 



shilanyas programme approached^ the government was in no 
position to prevent the programme as "there would have been 
a worse situation". 

Singh concedes that the "sentiments of the people were 
worked up so hard at the time of shila pujan, that even people 
who did not believe in religion Marxist households^ their 
womenfolk performed shila pujan". By failing to anticipate the 
developing situation, the government felt in November 1989 that 
there would be a "holocaust" if shilanyas was disallowed. There 
had been major communal riots in several cities and towns of 
north India most notably in Bhagalpur in Bihar, and in Bijnore 
in Uttar Pradesh. These riots had been sparked off during the 
shila processions, and the Home Ministry figures indicate that 
there was a quantum jump in the number of communal clashes 
in India after the launch of the shila pujan programme on Sep- 
tember 30. The VHP had another factor going in its favour: Even 
if the government mustered the political will to prevent 
shilanyas, it would find the situation tough to manage as elec- 
tions were scheduled for November 20 and the majority of the 
security forces were posted all over the country to ensure the 
peaceful conduct of elections. However, the government neither 
had the political courage to take on the VHP, nor did it explore 
options of contrtJiling the situation in Ayodhya and elsewhere. 
The ^^overnment Virtually threw in the towel, and Buta Singh 
was deputed to find a w^y out that allowed the government to 
claim that it had let "things happen according to the law of the 
land". 

The conduct of the government in the weeks preceding 
shilanyas makes it clear that protests notwithstanding, the Con- 
gress hoped to gamer the votes of the Hindus by allowing the 
programme. This is evident in the refusal of the government in 
preventing the programme even though it was armed with a 
resoluti< -n passed unanimously by non-BJP parties in the Lok 
Sabha on October 13, which stated that the government should 
not permit shilanyas, and VHP be "asked to cancel the 


259 



programme". The Congress approach was to argue with the 
Hindus that "shilanyas for their Ram temple has been laid, and 
also assuring that the Muslims were safe and intact. However, 
as the election results amply demonstrated, this did not happen 
and Buta Singh blamed it on the failure of the government in 
giving proper publicity" to the plan. The former Home Minister 
who has been charged of being instrumental in allowing the VHP 
programme, however denies the charge and says that he was 
implementing the decisions of the government including that of 
P.V, Narasimha Rao, who was chairman of the group of mini- 
sters on Ayodhya. Buta Singh also claims that he told Rajiv 
Gandhi that he was "prepared to tackle the situation by disal- 
lowing shilanyas provided the state government gives me full 
cooperation". 

Subsequent to this note submitted by Buta Singh, Gandhi 
convened a meeting of Chief Secretaries along with the Home 
Secretary and the Directors General of Police of all states. This 
was followed by another meeting with state Chief Mimsters. 
Buta Singh claims that the "sum total of these meetings was that 
no one was willing to take on this campaign of shila pujan and 
shilanyas. Everybody said that it was beyciid us, we cannot 
help...Then I sent a note to the Prime Minister saying that we 
can take them on and even stop shilanyas also. Unfortunately, 
there was a big no from the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh". 
After having foreclosed the option of trying to meet the VHP 
challenge by political means, the government was engaged in 
providing the shilanyas programme a semblance of legality. Buta 
Singh says that after it was decided to allow the programme, the 
government's "basic anxiety was to ensure that the High Court 
order was not interfered with". This became particularly impor- 
tant for the government after the VHP unilaterally selected the 
place where it intended to perform shilanyas on November 2, 
and hoisted a saffron flag at the site. The VHP immediately 
started mobilising its supporters to. reach the place and take 
physical control before the administration decided to act and 


260 



attempt to cordon off the site. At that time there were few in the 
government who doubted the intentions of the VHP to violate 
the High Court order, but no one initiated action, and were 
primarily engaged in trying to convince the VHP to shift the 
selected site, and when that failed, a laborious exercise was un- 
dertaken to declare the site of shilanyas as undisputed and thus 
permit the programme. Buta Singh says that it was a "question 
of letting things happen according to the law of the land". 

On November 6, some Congress leaders met with Devraha 
Baba, a Mathura based religious leader with considerable in- 
fluence in the VHP. He was requested to shift the site chosen for 
shilanyas, but when he refused, the state government moved the 
High Court the next day to seek a clarification on its earlier 
interim order. The Court declared that status quo had to be 
maintained in regard to the entire property listed in the title suit 
adding that this excluded areas outside the limits of EFGH in 
the site plan lying before the court. Buta Singh visited Lucknow 
on November 8 and what happened subsequently is detailed by 
him: "We were in the midst of the elections, there wa-i no force 
available to stop shilanyas. There was no other way (but to allow 
it). So 1 carried all the people concerned with me. The Babri 
Action people, the Court represented by the sub-registrar of the 
Allahabad H'gh Court, the Advocate-General of the state, and 
we asked questions of the sub-registrar to ask him to clarify on 
the basis of revenue records. We had a map given to the Court 
by the Sunni Waqf Board. I spoke to the Prime Minister over the 
phone from there (Ayodhya) and only after he was satisfied that 
the land was outside the purview of the disputed land, did it 
happen. That is how it was done". 

Buta Singh, however, makes no mention of the fact that the 
map on the basis of which the Advocate-General opined that the 
selected site was not a part of the disputed property, was not to 
scale and thus could not have been the basis for allowing 
shiiunyas. No note was also taken that the shilanyas ceremony 
was cleared by the government without consulting the Ayodhya 

261 



Special Development Authority, The decision of the government 
to allow the VHP to complete the shilanyas programme was 
political, and taken with an eye on the electorate, but the Con- 
gress proverbially fell between two stools as the Hindus reposed 
faith in the BJP and the Muslims felt that the Congress had 
betrayed the community by allowing shilanyas. As far as the BJP 
is concerned, it evaluation of the situation leading to shilanyas 
is more realistic and closer to the truth. The party has asserted: 
"Despite the Allahabad High Court ruling on August 14 and 
November 7, declaring status quo on the disputed site, the Uttar 
Pradesh government and the Central government caved in, 
under mass pressure and could not stop the shilanyas."’* 


Dictating Terms 

The twin programmes that stirred the hornet's nest in India in 
1989 were hastily cobbled up rituals. The consecration ceremony 
of the bricks was governed by a special booklet Shri RanfShila 
Gcetavali of hymns” that the VHP published in July. The 
shilanyas ceremony itself entailed the digging up of the chosen 
site, and laying a few of the consecrated bricks to symbolically 
lay the foundation of the proposed temple. The date for the 
shilanyas programme was made to coincide with the festival of 
Devuththan Ekadashi, an annual festival when Ayodhya is visited 
by several thousand devotees to undertake a parikrama of the 
temple-town. This ensured that the VHP shall not be short of a 
crowd before which the shilanyas ritual would be staged. The 
VHP declared that the shilanyas was ’.^eing performed at the 
place where the main gate of the temple would be. The ceremony 
started close to noon on November 9 and concluded the next 
day with a religious ceremony. Kameshwar Chopal, a Low-caste 
Harijan from Bihar was chosen by the VHP to place the first brick 
in the small pit. This was done by the VHP leadership to stress 
the need I'or Hindu solidarity cutting across caste lines a view- 
point, as highlighted earlier, that the RSS clan believed in from 

262 



its inception. 

Prior to this, the small pit was dug up and as the land was a 
part of the graveyard where the Muslims killed in the clash of 
1855 were buried, several pieces of bones sun., ced during the 
digging. Watched by a several-thousand-strong cheeiing crowd, 
the frenzied VHP activists did an impromptu delirious dance 
waving the bones in the a r. These VHP activists, a large number 
of them members of the Bajrang Dal and all neo-convcrts to the 
RSS clan's, fold later decl? .J that they would take the bones 
away to be kept and shown as evidence for having "started the 
process of undoing the historical wrongs by the Islamic in- 
vaders".*®® Meanwhile, the administration complimented itself 
for having "managed the shilanyas without endangering peace". 
The VHP leaders in the evening claimed that what had been 
witnessed in Ayodhya was "not a simple ceremony to lay the 
foundation of a new temple. We have today laid the foundation 
stone of a Hindu Rashtra,"*®* VHP leader Ashok Singhal 
declared. While the bulk of the BJP leaders left the shilanyas 
programme to be conducted by the VHP, Vijaya Raje Scindia, 
party vice-president, oversaw the programme in her capacity as 
a patron of the VHP. 

Buta Singh was not the only national-level politician to have 
visited Ayodhj? in the days preceding the shilanyas. Veteran 
Congress leader Kamalapati Tripathi, Communist Party of India 
leader C. Rajeshwar Kao, V.P. Singh, Syed Shahabuddin all 
visited Faizabad, but did not go to Ayodhya. They returned after 
the local officers explained that the Babri Masjid was not 
threatened. All of them had failed to realise that the programme 
was a major watershed and would alter Indian polity greatly in 
years to come. However, local response to the VHP programme 
was lukewarm and on November 9, the communist parties held 
an election meeting in Faizabad. For all the strides the BJP made 
in the .elections, the result from the Faizabad parliamentary con- 
stituency Ayodhya was a part of it was a rude shock to the party 
as it was won by a member of the CPI. The victory of Mitra Sen 


263 



Yadav, the CPI candidate, underscored that the BJP had still a 
long way to go before aspiring for power at the Centre. But, 
while the Faizabad result made the BJP redouble its efforts in 
the temple-town and the neighbouring areas, it lulled the non- 
BJP pa ties into complacency and in subsequent months 
Faizabad also started falling in line with the sangh parivar's 
political posture. 

Predictably, the entire sangh parivar noted with satisfaction 
that the BJP had finally "come of age" in India. The RSS general 
secretary, H.V. Sheshadri, declared in an interview that the RSS 
had been stressing for several years that "it is the Hindus, 
awakened and made conscious of their national responsibilities 
who can give a healthy turn to the degenerated political culture. 
From this angle there appears to be quite a distinct improvement, 
which is reflected in the vastly improved position of the BJP."^®^ 
In the course of the interview, the RSS leader was asked about 
the extent to which the Ayodhya agitation helped improve the 
BJP showing in Parliament. He did not wish to be drawQ into a 
mathematical estimate, but said that the "process of Hindu 
awakening has been fast gaining momentum over the past few 
years. The Ram Janmabhoomi issue also added its own share to 
it. One of the major factors responsible for the BJP victory, is 
undoubtedly rising Hindu awareness" . Sheshadri was also asked 
if there was a danger to the BJP from other parties that chose to 
adopt a Hindu posture after sensing the "mood of the Jiindu 
electorate". The RSS leader argued that while the RSS would like 
all political parties to be "cured of the minority mania and for- 
mulating their policies in tune with our genuine national ethos. 
But mere championing of the Hindu cause as a political tactic to 
win the Hindu vote will not take them far". Sheshadri^s views 
were important as his was one of the most influential voices 
within the RSS clan from the late 1980s following the illness of 
Balasaheb Deoras that largely confined him to Nagpur. 

A day after the shilanyas programme, the religious leaders 
who had assembled at Ayodhya marched towards the Babii 


264 



Masjid to start construction of the new temple as the Marg Dar- 
shak Mandal of the VHP, had ruled the previous evening that 
"'the natural culmination of the shilanyas programme was the 
construction of a temple."*®^ The march was stopped by the local 
administration and the marchers did not lodge a protest but 
meekly dispersed. The move to march towards the disp’ited 
shrine was merely a ploy to keep the enthusiasm of the as- 
sembled crowd in check, and ensure that the people return to 
their homes to vote for the BJP. The VHP also declared that the 
next phase of the Ram temple agitation would be discussed at a 
meeting of religious leaders in Allahabad on January 27-28, 1990. 
The shilanyas programme had been the highest point in the road 
to Ayodhya till that time and the new government was aware 
that the problem was likely to surface soon at the meeting of the 
religious leaders, but like the previous government, V.P. Singh 
and his council of ministers also chose not to act till the meeting, 
and preferred to tackle other issues including calling for state 
assembly elections in several states of India. The inability of V.P. 
Singh to get a headstart over the sangh parivar proved to be his 
undoing in less than a year's time. From the time the VHP 
launched the Ayodhya agitation in 1984, the agenda on the 
temple dispute was consistently set by the RSS clan. This process 
had not been , ‘versed even after the demolition of the Babri 
Masjid, and amply underscored the inability of all governments, 
including the one headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao, of acting on 
time after evolving a cogent understanding of how to tackle the 
threat to the present character of Indian polity. 

When the VHP activists dug up the graveyard in front of the 
Babri Masjid and after placing nearly two hundred consecrated 
bricks to symbolically lay the foundation stone of the proposed 
temple, nearly five and a half years had elapsed since the VHP 
had taken up the cudgels on "behalf of Ram to build a mag- 
nificent temple at his birthsite befitting his stature". What had 
appealed to be a peripheral agitation that had little potential of 
becoming a mass movement, had fai greater support and had 


265 



played a decisive role in the 1989 elections. The Ayodhya issue 
was vying for a central position on the Indian political agenda 
with the controversy over the alleged kickbacks received by 
Indian politicians in the Bofors howitzer deal. The VHP which 
spearheaded the agitation had by 1989 been able to enlist the 
support of other front organisations of the RSS clan by projecting 
the Ayodhya issue as a central one through which the RSS ideol- 
ogy could be given greater acceptability. It was also becoming 
evident that the real intent of the sangh parivar was not to just 
oversee the successful construction of the Ram temple. Rather, 
the idea of Hindutva was the primary governing principle of the 
RSS, and its affiliates. 

It was pointed out that by sheer coincidence, shilanyas was 
performed on the same day that the Berlin Wall was broken 
through. Several later ideologies sympathetic to the RSS have 
argued that there were strong similarities between the two acts: 
Both in Germany and in India historical aberrations were being 
rectified. Such comparison is far-fetched and indicates the 
commentators' admiration for the RSS ideology, dominating the 
desirt to clinically analyse contemporary global events. How- 
ever, there is no denjdng that the programme of shilanyas and 
the spectacular growth of the BJP in the elections heralded the 
emergence of a new polity in India. Unfortunately the message 
was lost on the majority of people not wedded to the Hindutva 
idea, and it was argued that the rise of the BJP was a passing 
phase as the VHP would be unable to sustain the agitation, and 
would peter out over time. None of the political adversaries of 
the RSS and its affiliates were able to view the developments of 
the 1980s in a holistic manner, and. it was argued that the best 
strategy to c'»unter the VHP and its allies would be to avoid 
taking any decision till the organisation announced its next step. 
There had been little shift in the approach of the government in 
tackling the Ayodhya agitation, and this benefited the entire 
sangh parivar. 

The Congress government argued that shilanyas was allowed 


266 



as it was done according to law and at no point during the 
negotiations, did the question of constructicn come up. The 
government approach in resolving the Ayodhya dispute, has 
been detailed by Buta Singh and he says that the strategy was 
to allow shilanyas, after ensuring that the court order was not 
violated. The plan also envisaged speeding up the judicial 
process but it could not be implemented as the Congress lost in 
the elections. However, the Congress leaders were being myopic 
in considering that either of the two warring groups would ac- 
cept the judicial verdict, if it went against them. The VHP and 
its allies had already made it clear that "matters of belief cannot 
be the subject matter of courts". The VHP also formaUy put it 
on record on October 19 in Lucknow, at a meeting of its senior 
leaders that the "garbha griha of the proposed temple shall remain 
at the place where Shri Ram Lalla's is placed at present," and 
that it would "welcome the shifting of the structure at present 
placed on Ram Janmabhoomi with utmost honour"."^ While the 
VHP never disguised its long-term intention, the government 
and other political adversaries of the RSS clan, were was con- 
cerned with the immediate crisis in regard to the shilanyas and 
argued that the VHP had declared that "they have no intention 
to dismantle the structure of the present building". Shilanyas 
was thus allowed, but the Congress lost out on the support of 
both Hindus and Muslims, and the behaviour of the electorate 
has been detailed previously. 

However, in the weeks after the government headed by V.P. 
Singh assumed office, the euphoria in India was markedly anti- 
Rajiv Gandhi and the Ram temple issue had perforce to take the 
back seat. It was also the period for the BJP and other RSS 
affiliates to embark on a period of consolidation. The RSS clan 
had grown in a sp^'ctacular fashion in the six months since the 
preparation for the shila pujan programme started in mid-1989, 
and th- re was a need to consolidate its rank or else there were 
chances that the neo-converts would return to the fold of the 
parties they had traditionally supported. In the Hindi heartland, 

267 



the traditional vote banks of the Congress had been the Brah- 
mins, Harijans and Muslims for decades. This combination had 
been disturbed in the 1989 elections with the Muslims and 
Harijans opting for the Janata Dal and its allies. Some Harijans 
also rooted for the Bahujan Samaj Party which contested elec- 
tions on a separate plank and projected itself as a party wedded 
to fight for the right of the Backward castes. The Brahmins had 
moved away significantly from the Congress to the BJP fold 
along with some other Backward castes. The immediate months 
after the elevation of V.P. Singh as Prime Minister, was also 
crucial to the BJP as it did not wish to acquire a negative image 
of a party that would not allow the government to function. 

Advani's analysis of the political scenario following the elec- 
tions was cdso succinct and indicative of the approach of the BJP. 
He said that 1990 was a "significant milestone" in Indian politics 
and "similar to 1977 in one respect, namely that both mark the 
ouster of the Congress and the installation of a non-Congress 
government at the Centre."’®^ But the BJP leader also found 
dissimilarities in the sense that while 1977 "aroused hopes that 
the Indian polity was perhaps moving towards bi-polarity, 1990 
has only confirmed that in India a neat two-party system is not 
feasible and we are in for a prolonged phase of multi-party 
politics."^”^ Advani was also appreciative of the government's 
efforts to consult not just the BJP and the communist parties, but 
also the Congress, on various issues. He found it the "right thing 
to do," and committed to "extend critical support" to the govern- 
ment "but with firmness in so far as its own commitments to the 
people are concerned". Advani was making these comments 
after the assembly elections in several states in February, 1990 
that had led to the formation of independent BJP governments 
in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal 
Pradesh and a partner in the Janata Dal-led coalition government 
in Gujarat. 

The task in front of the BJP, as detailed by Advani, was to ensure 
that the governments in the three states and the BJP Ministers in 


268 



Gujarat "must function in a manner and accomplish the develop- 
ment of these states so as to enhance the part 3 ^s reputation all over 
the country" . The BJP president also directed other organisational 
managers of the party that "grass-root activity by the party aimed 
at expanding the party's base geographically and socially must 
continue unabated; a conscious effort must be made to move 
eastwards and southwards". In the first half of 1990, the BJP was 
thus engaged in providing good governance in the states it was in 
government, and trying to consolidate the gains of 1989. This 
policy of the BJP was reciprocated by the VHP and other members 
of the RSS clan who did not precipitate the Ram temple issue till it 
politically suited the BJP. The decision of the VHP in the first half of 
1 990 to 'go slow' on the temple issue and in the later months give a 
new thrust was again indicative of the cohesion within the ranks of 
the sangh pari var and it was contrasted by the internal bickerings 
within the Janata Dal and inactivity on the part of the Congress. 


Repeating Follies 

The National Front government did little at a formal level on the 
Ayodhya dispute in the first month after assuming office. The 
VHP, while asking its activists to return from Ayodhya on 
November 11, 1989 had announced that the decision to start 
construction of the temple would be taken at Allahabad on 
January 27-28, at a meeting of religious leaders owing allegiance 
to the VHP. The government however, made no effort to estab- 
lish direct contact with any of the agitating leaders. Instead, V.P. 
Singh, the Prime Minister, declared a fifteen-point programme 
to improve the lot of tii*^- religious minorities in India. Syed 
Shahabuddin, whose marginalisation among Muslim leaders 
was almost complete he had floated a virtual one-man political 
party called Insaf Party in 1989, after failing to find place in the 
new coi 'glomerate, and lost heavily in the elections while wel- 
coming the action plan on January 5, 1990, pointed out that the 
plan missed out on promising a "settlement of the Ayodhya 

269 



dispute and enactment of a legislation to protect status quo of 
all places of worship as on August 15 , 1947.' Shahabuddin 
also reiterated his earlier demands including granting of 
statutory status to the Minorities Commission and the publica- 
tion of the Gopal Singh report on the status of minorities, sub- 
mitted in Jime 1983 to the government, but had not been made 
public by the Congress government. 

Even though nothing was initiated at the governmental level, 
non-govemmental efforts to resolve the Ayodhya issue began 
with silent government appreciation. Acharya Sushil Muni, a 
Jain religious leader with political aspirations of sorts, succeeded 
in cobbling together a National Peace Negotiating Committee to 
resolve the Ayodhya dispute. The committee was formed on 
January 14 and the Acharya announced that members would 
meet in the capital on January 21, and visit Ayodhya two days 
later to ascertain the situation at the disputed shrine. The Jain 
leader had sent out missives to the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama 
Masjid, and other Hindu religious leaders including some sig- 
nificant personae connected with the VHP agitation. He specifi- 
cally requested the Imam to nominate members on the 
committee, thereby according him the status of the unquestioned 
Muslim religious leader. Done with the tacit approval of the 
govenunent, this marked the near complete sidelining of 
Shahabuddin vis-a-vis the Central government. Throughout its 
term in office, the National Front government made little attempt 
to enlist the support of the former IFS officer in any of its initia- 
tives. Rather, it worked towards projecting a new 'ginger group' 
among the Muslim leadership as they were personally loyal to 
V.P. Singh in contrast to Shahabuddin who continued to have 
close ties with Singh's arch rival in the Janata Dal, Chandrasek- 
har. 

The committee also had members from the Buddhist, Christian 
and Sikh communities. The VHP asked Sushil Muni to attend the 
conclave of religious leaders at Allahabad, and he agreed before 
jetting off to Moscow to attend a meeting of the 'Global Forum of 


270 



Parliamentarians and Spiritual Leaders for Human Survival/ 
When the committee was constituted, there was widespread scep- 
ticism regarding the possible success of the group to thrash out a 
compromise formula. The scepticism stemmed from the fact that 
the committee had no member from the VHP or any of its affiliates, 
while the Babri groups were represented by a strong contingent. 
This gave the option to the VHP not to accept any compromise for- 
mula, which emerged at the end of the deliberations of the commit- 
tee. There was also the added issue of imbalance in the committee, 
in so far as the Hindu members were predominantly religious 
leaders, while the Muslim members on the committee were either 
political or social activists. Shahabuddin, who had not been in- 
cluded in the list of the Imam's nominees, pointed out the surpris- 
ing omission of VHP leaders but extended his "best wishes." He 
hoped that it would be able to "issue an appeal to the VHP, not to 
precipitate matters" during the Allahabad conclave and defer con- 
struction plans till the committee completed its deliberations, "or 
till an amicable settlement is reached or till the title is determined 
judicially". 

However, neither Sushil Muni, nor the committee succeeded 
in making the VHP relent for the moment on its temple construc- 
tion programme, as the Hindu religious leaders declared at tl[c 
conclusion of the two-day sant sammelan that the construction 
programme would be resumed from February 14. Bui, there 
were indications that the declaration was a tactical ploy, as the 
VHP also said that the decision not with standing, it was open 
to negotiations with the government. With assembly elections in 
several north Indian states, including Uttar Pradesh, the RSS clan 
could ill afford to divide attention. If the VHP went ahead with 
the plan to start constructing the temple, it would lead to the 
twin problems of forcing an early confrontation with the govern- 
ment, and also lead to a paucity of cadre to campaign in the 
elections slated for the last week of February. However, there 
was also a danger of the neo-converts reverting from the VHP 
fold if the programme was deferred. But, the sangh parivar opted 


271 



to take a calculated risk end sent out signals to the Prime Mini- 
ster, that a postponement was possible provided he intervened 
personally. At that time,the VHP was also smarting under al- 
legations of stashing away funds abroad. 

As a result V.P. Singh requested a meeting with some leaders 
connected with the Ayodhya agitation, and at the conclusion of 
the first meeting on February 6, asked for some time to enable 
him to consult his colleagues in the government. A second meet- 
ing was scheduled for February 8, at which the Prime Minister 
sought a four-month moratorium on the construction 
programme and promised in return, that a solution to the vexed 
dispute would be found in this period. It was predetermined 
that the request of V.P. Singh would be acceded to by the VHP, 
but a formal resolution to this effect was passed by the VHP the 
next day and the decision was made public. The government 
had been able to secure breathing time, but this was not because 
of shrewdness on the part of the Prime Minister. Rather, it suited 
the advocates of the Hindutva idea to further the p5litical 
prospects of the BJP in the assembly elections. Finally when the 
results of the assembly elections, started trickling in, BJP leaders 
who monitored the party headquarters in the capital, found it 
"hard to believe themselves". The BJP secured majority on its 
own in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, 
and in Rajasthan and Gujarat it had a working majority with its 
electoral ally, the Janata Dal. The BJP formed the government in 
the first two states and headed a coalition government in Rajas- 
than, while in Gujarat it became the junior partner in the coali- 
tion. 

The temporary respite on the temple front acquired, the 
government became complacent and it was nearly two months 
before the first formal decision to resolve the issue was taken, 
when a committee of Ministers comprising Madhu Dandavate, 
George Fernandes and Mukhtar Anees was formed on April 5, to 
explore various options to settle the dispute by soliciting views 
formally and informally of various groups involved in file dispute. 


272 



This had been preceded by periodic reminders to Singh by the 
VHP leaders who pointed out to him at meetings that the four- 
month moratorium was running out. Even in the initial stages of 
the National Front's tenure it was clear that the Janata Dal was 
beset with a host of internal problems the main one being the in- 
ability of a bunch of politicians of differing views and overriding 
political ambitions, to sink differences and work towards 
strengthening the fledgling party. If Rajiv Gandhi had ignored the 
Ayodhya issue during his tenure, V.P. Singh failed to find a way to 
resolve the crisis, as he was caught up in coping with the threats to 
his leadership from within the Janata Dal. The other main preoc- 
cupation of the government was to unearth the extent of corrup- 
tion in the Howitzer deal, which the National Front rightly 
concluded was the prime reason for the electorate voting out the 
Congress. 

The BJP too carefully added to the complacency of the Na- 
tional Front by consciously steering clear of the Ayodhya dis- 
pute, during its executive meeting in Calcutta. In his opening 
address at the session in the first week of April, Advani merely 
noted the fact that the BJP session coincided with its tenth 
'birthday', and that the party had grown considerably since its 
launch in Delhi in April 1980. The issues that Advani highlighted 
in his address did not include Ayodhya, but listed the problems 
in Punjab, Kashmir, and Assam as the "three issues which are 
going to provide the people with an acid test for judging the 
government's failure or success".^^ Advani also indicated that 
his party had little problem with the number of political parties 
that were present in the centre-stage of the Indian political 
theatre. He said that "let the coming years be of healthy com- 
petition among these divergent political parties as to who can 
serve the people best...Let political Cassandras who have alwa)^ 
viewed multi-part)rism as a synonym for instability and uncer- . 
tainty, t-e proved wrong. This new phase of multi-party politics 
can turn out to be highly invigorating and health-giving for 
Indian democracy. TheBJP on its part is determined to strive for 


273 



this".”® 

The decision of the VHP to postpone the plan to start con- 
struction of the temple and the absence of any Ayodhya-related 
rhetoric at its executive meeting, was interpreted by the political 
adversaries of the BJP as a sign of the party's realisation that it 
had exhausted the 'Hindu card', and had no option but to play 
the role of a responsible political party that could also govern 
the states in which it was in power. The critics of the BJP argued 
that the party was trying to make a transition from a party which 
had perfected the art of agitating to one which could also govern 
the Central government if given a chance by the electorate. These 
arguments got a further fillip from the observation of Advani 
that in the assembly elections, "the Ram Janmabhoomi issue was 
just not there".*” While Advani and the other BJP leaders went 
on to interpret this fact as a sign that the support base for the 
BJP was not restricted to just the Ayodhya issue, but extended 
to other issues highlighted by the BJP, the political adversaries 
of the BJP argued that the confession suggested that the BJP was 
now groping for issues besides the Ram temple imbroglio. While 
some portions of these arguments were true, it is incorrect to say 
that the temple agitation was put in the back seat because of the 
movement having run out of steam. As has been seen earlier, 
the decision to defer construction plans was taken mainly for 
tactical reasons to consolidate the gains of 1989, and also of 
course to experiment with power in the states where it was in 
government. It was also the classic theory of a low point follow- 
ing a high point. The high point had been shilanyas and the 
subsequent elections, and the low point had to follow. In this 
period preparations were made for a bigger assault on Ayodhya, 
and the Indian polity as it existed. The Hindutva idea was greatly 
honed in this period. However, the quiet work done by the sangh 
parivar was perceived by its critics as a sign of the RSS being 
caught in "games of its own making".”^ 

One of the "games" that the VHP was trapped in were charges 
that it had collected huge amounts of money during the shila 


274 



pujan programme, and that they were stashed away in banks 
outside the country. The controversy had erupted in the second 
week of February, when a Congress general secretary, K.N. 
Singh, charged the VHP with having collected Rs 700 crores of 
which Rs 300 crores was stashed away in banks abroad. Just as 
the controversy came to the fore, the Home Ministry also 
recorded that in 1989, the VHP had organised a lecture series for 
an America-based NRI academic couple. The Ministry recorded 
in its noting that the couple addressed several meetings on 
Hindu renaissance, and how Westerners were slowly getting 
attracted to the Hindu way of life. During this visit, the 
academics informed the VHP that funds had been collected fpr 
building the temple during the shila pujan programme in the 
USA, and requested them to find out some means by which the 
funds could be transferred to India. However, this was not done 
and when the charge was leveled in Februaiy, the VHP was 
forced to go on the defensive and publicise the details of the 
money collected during the shila pujan programme in India. The 
working president of the VHP, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, declared 
that Rs 8.25 crores had been garnered during shila pujan of which 
Rs 1.60 crores had been spent on making arrangements for the 
twin programmes. The controversy faded away soon but the dirt 
stuck, cementing the filing in certain sections of the National 
Front, that if given a long rope, the VHP and the other RSS 
affiliates would hang themselves. 

However, it was not just the sangh parivar which was perforce 
being asked to face embarrassing questions. Crisis was slowly 
building up within the Janata Dal, and dissensions that had been 
apparent from the time cf its inception in 1988, started coming 
to the fore. The National Front government also had the reputa- 
tion of being one of the most porous of all Central governments, 
as there were few behind the scene informal meetings, the details . 
of which were not withheld h’om the media. The first major clash 
in the Janata Dal came on the issue of allegations of rigging of 
elecdons during an assembly by-poll, in the state of Haryana. 


275 



The constituency in question was Meham which had been va- 
cated to facilitate the eldest son of Devi Lai, Om Prakash 
Chautala's, election to the state assembly to enable him to con- 
tinue as Chief Minister, the office to which he was elevated after 
his father joined the Central government as the Deputy Prime 
Minister. There was widespread violence in Meham on the day 
of the elections, and there were demands that Chautala should 
resign and allow the election of another Janata Dal leader as 
Chief Minister. The matter came up for discussion at the highest 
party forum where a similar demand was voiced, but the father- 
son duo refused to oblige and threatened to split the party if 
other leaders insisted. Chautala continued as Chief Minister, but 
the issue left cracks in the Janata Dal edifice and from that time 
it was just a question of time, when various forces allergic to 
V.P. Singh's style of governance would work in tandem, to bring 
about the fall of the government. 

From the time of its inception, V.P. Singh's sharpest critic 
within the party had been the former Janata Party president, 
Chandrasekhar, who considered Singh a rank opportunist and 
resented the fact that he had to take the back seat in the new 
political conglomerate. While Devi Lai had been one of the 
foremost supporters of V.P. Singh and had been projected as the 
patriarch of the new party, he came in handy for Chandrasekhar 
after the controversy over the Meham by-elections. Further 
egged on by the Congress and at least one major industrial house, 
Devi Lai was at the forefront of rocking the National Front boat 
and made every effort to ensure that vital government informa- 
tion was either passed on to the people opposed to V.P. Singh, 
or the attention of the government was diverted from the real 
issues to the basic question of survival. While the Janata Party 
experiment in 1977 had witnessed schisms surfacing only after 
a while, the Janata Dal was facing problems from its inception, 
and it was only a matter of time before the political adversaries 
of V.P. Singh, both inside the party and outside, would attempt 
to ground it. By the summer of 1990, various political forces had 


276 



started positioning themselves in places from where they could 
play a pivotal role, when the crisis in the ruling combine crossed 
the threshold. 

Confusing Signals 

. The four-month moratorium on the Ayodhya agitation that the 
Prime Minister had sought from the VHP, expired in the fost 
week of June without any significant headway except informally 
ascertaining the views of leadeis involved in the dispute. This 
was the consensus in the meeting between the VHP leaders and 
V.P. Singh, held on June 8. Subsequent to this, the VHP convened 
a meeting of its Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal in the religious 
city of Haridwar. The religious leaders owing allegiance to the 
VHP, met on June 23-24 and while declaring that it was "agreeing 
to keep its door open for any dialogue," announced a detailed 
programme leading to the starting of construction of the Ram 
temple on October 30, a day that once again coincided with the 
f^tival of Devuththan Ekadashi. However, the VHP made it clear 
that there would be no compromise on the issue of the location 
of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. It was to be where the 
idols were placed and "under no circumstances it can be 
changed."'*^ 

The VHP was also firm in asserting that the building plan of 
the proposed structure would be the same as that of the model 
developed by an Ahmedabad-based architect, Chandrakant 
Sompura. When the hundred-odd religious leaders dispersed 
from Haridwar, the VHP sent out confused signals to its cadre 
the door of negotiations had been kept open, yet the detailed 
programme had been chalked out. For many of the neo-converts 
to the Hindutva fold, the VHP and other affiliates appeared no 
different from other political parties who indulged in double 
talk: The VHP was criticising the government, but the BJP was 
handing out certificates that the government was "moving in the 
right direction".”® In. June it appeared that the VHP threat to 

277 



start construction would not be carried out and that the 
programme would be replaced by a ritualistic ceremony to mark 
the first anniversary according to the Hindu calendar of 
shilanyas, after it succeeded in using the good offices of the BJP, 
to secure another moratorium on the Ayodhya dispute. 

However, the resolutions that were adopted at the two-day 
meeting were significant, as they were indicative of the basic fear 
of the VHP and others in the RSS clan a division in the ranks of 
the Hindus. One of the resolutions noted that the Hindus had 
been greatly united by the Ayodhya agitation, and the twin 
programmes of shila pujan and shilanyas. "It is our sacred duty 
to maintain the unity achieved," stated the resolution. The fear 
of schism surfacing among the Hindus was on two counts 
religious leaders with conflicting interests clashing with each 
other, and the inherent problems posed by the rigid caste order. 
Thus the VHP appealed to the religious leaders that "forgetting 
all their internal differences they should unite" to make the 
Ayodhya agitation a success. The practising Hindus and»neo- 
converts were advised to "first of all forget all our internal dif- 
ferences and project the Hindu society as an impregnable fort". 
There were also indications of the emerging situation when the 
resolution claimed, that "those elements who are benefited by 
the disintegration of Hindu society, have again started their con- 
spiracies". The VHP session was also significant because of the 
strident criticism of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam 
Singh Yadav. He was attacked for his decision to induct Azam 
Khan, a member of the Babri Action Committee, in his Ministry, 
and for his repeated statements that the state government will 
not allow construction of the proposed temple to begin in viola- 
tion of the court order. Yadav was accused of being "most ir- 
responsible" and his assertions were an "open violation of all 
national values". Yadav was the third 'hate s3nnbor that the VHP 
started to project after the Babri Masjid and Babur. 

The detailed national-level and provincial-level programmes 
that were chalked out in Haridwar, introduced the concept of 


278 



kar seva or voluntary service. Essentially a Punjabi phrase, it had 
been traditionally used by Sikhs in the repair of damaged gurud- 
waras, most recently in Amritsar after Operation Blue Star of 
« 1984 when militants were flushed out from the Golden Temple 
by the Indian Army. For the VHP, however, kar seva in 1990 
meant simply being in Ayodhya and cocking a snook at the state 
machinery, and those who headed for the temple>town were kar 
sevaks. To broadbase its organisational structure, the VHP an> 
nounced the formation of Shri Ram Kar Seva Samitis structured 
in four tiers from the central level to the local neighbourhood 
level. These committees were to be formed in August and the 
kar sevaks would be "selected" for going to Ayodhya. The 
processions heading for Ayodhya were to be started on Septem- 
ber 29, the day of Vijay Dashami. In order to further widen the 
appeal for the Ram temple, the VHP also announced the forma- 
tion of Sankirtan Mandals in "each and every village and town 
throughout the country". These committees were entrusted with 
the task of organising daily Ram Bhajans and using the local 
temples by penetrating the managing committees and publicise 
the VHP programme to the devotees who came to offer prayers. 
The VHP leadership asked its cadre to ensure that the "entire 
atmosphere of Bharat should be surcharged with only Nam 
Sankirtan (name evocation) of Bhagwan Shri Ram, so that all 
obstacles in the construction of the Shri Ram Mandir may be 
removed, and we may achieve our objective". The details of the 
programme announced at Haridwar were to be reviewed and 
finalised by prominent religious leaders at Vrindavan near 
Mathura on August 1. At the conclusion of the Haridwar meet- 
ing, it was clear that the RSS clan was preparing its war 
machinery for the second year running. However, this time it 
was keeping its options open, in choosing the date of assault. 

In the summer of 1990, the entire Indian nation was in the 
grip of A drama of another kind. The television serial, Mahab- 
harat, produced in the soap opera style, was drawing to a close, 
and there were few who. preferred to miss the episodes beamed 


279 



every Sunday morning. Even as the serial came to an end on July 
8, yet another Mahabharat seemed to be in the offing, but this 
time in the Janata Dal. Battle lines were clearly drawn in the 
party, and the Meham issue refused to die. Devi Lai was being 
egged on by various politicians and other people, keen to see 
the end of the National Front experiment. By the end of July, it 
was clear that a parting of wa 3 rs was inevitable between Devi 
Lai and Chandrasekhar, on the one hand and V.P. Singh on the 
other. The Congress also was playing a role in widening the gap 
between various Janata Dal factions, and^there was also open 
collusion between the political forces opposed to V.P. Singh and 
executives of a large industrial house who had no love lost for 
Singh, from the days he had been Finance Minister under Rajiv 
Gandhi. 

The period witnessed intrigues and secret conclaves between 
people formally on different sides of the fence. However, what 
kept the Janata Dal together, was ironically a law that was enacted 
by Rajiv Gandhi after his ascendancy to power. The Anti-Defec- 
tion Act which was pushed through by the Congress government, 
prevented any member of Parliament from resigning from the 
party, if he or she wished to retain the status of being a parliamen- 
tarian. Since the Janata Dal rebels were not keen to attempt muster- 
ing the required one-third of the parliamentary party to effect a 
split, an uneasy situation prevailed within the main constituent of 
the ruling front. The Janata Dal, since July continued as a single 
party only in name and not in spirit various faction leaders con- 
vening meetings to demonstrate their strength. One of the most 
important of such calls was given by Devi Lai, who called a public 
rally at the capital's Boat Club for August 9 to challenge V.P. Singh. 
The motivating idea for staging the show of strength was to 
demonstrate to Singh that he had been elected Prime Minister be- 
cause of De\d Lai's machinations, and could not continue in the 
same position by earning his ire. 

Sensing that the government was embroiled in internal con- 
tradictions, the RSS clan opted to continue to prepare its cadre 


280 



for a showdown at Ayodhya. The BJP too at its executive meeting 
in Madras in the last week of July noted the "dama^ caused by 
the Chautala affair"' to the Janata Dal and asked the main 
constituent of the ruling front to put its house in order. Advani 
also reacted to a nascent move spearheaded by some Congress 
leaders and a few from the Janata Dal, to form a national govern- 
ment minus the BJP. Talking about the possible realignment on 
such lines, Advani stated that "if any realignment does take place 
which makes the BJP an opposition party, that need not bother 
us at all. Our present role is extremely difficult, and the role of 
an opposition party would be far simpler and for the party's 
future prospects, much more advantageous"."^ Advani also said 
it was a "matter of regret" that the government had not 
responded to the VHP decision to give him four months to 
resolve the Ayodhya dispute, and had made no "meaningful 
move in the matter". The BJP leader also warned V.P. Singh that 
a "casual approach in the matter can prove costly". However, 
even at that stage, the BJP was nowhere near precipitating the 
Ayodhya crisis in the manner in which it finally did in sub- 
sequent months. 

However, the pressure was kept on the government at the 
meeting of religious leaders at Vrindavan on August 1 when 
another programjne to widen the base of the agitation and raise 
emotions to a feverish pitch was announced. Swami Vamdev, 
the Vrinda van-based religious leader, was appointed the presi- 
dent of the All India Shri Ram Kar Seva Samiti, and he declared 
that a specially consecrated torch would be lit at Ayodhya on 
September 19 which was to be euphemistically called Ram Agni. 
Several more torches would be lit from this torch, and would be 
carted to zonal centres from where they would be further mul- 
tiplied and taken to villages and towns. These torches were called 
Ram Jyotis and on the day of Deewali, people would be asked to 
come to the village or town centre to light a torch to be taken to 
their houses. The programme envisaged processions by groups 
of more than twenty-five VHP activists armed with the burning 


281 



toirches, and had the potential to literally put the countiy in 
flames. Predictably; there was a chorus of protests at the VHP 
programme^ and the Prime Minister was petitioned to ban the 
processions with the burning torches, but the demand was not 
acceded to by the government. 

The religious leaders also asked the Hindus to celebrate In- 
dependence Day that year by hoisting saffron flags and blowing 
conch shells in their houses instead of participating in any 
government-organised function. By this time, the VHP and its 
allies had perfected the art of using traditional Hindu symbols 
for furthering the Ayodhya agitation. From this time onwards, 
the colour saffron became S3monymous with the Ram temple and 
the Hindutva idea. The slogans of this period were markedly 
more aggressive than before, yet there was no sign of the im- 
pending crisis on the Ayodhya front that gripped the govern- 
ment specifically and the country as a whole in October. The 
decision of the RSS clan to embark on a path that jettisoned the 
National Front government had more to do with the decision of 
V.P. Singh to implement a long pending recommendation to 
reserve government jobs for the Backward castes. The decision 
had been primarily taken by V.P. Singh to quell the growing 
internal dissidence as also to chalk out a permanent social and 
electoral constituency for himself and his party. 


Caste Fissures to the Fore 

The reaction to V.P. Singh's sudden decision was called 'Mandal 
mania' by a large number of commentators. Cities in several 
parts of the country were brought to a grinding halt, as agitating 
students protested against the Government's decision. Buses and 
trains were stopped and burnt, and other public was property 
destroyed as waves of anger swept India. Spontaneity was the 
order of the day, and no political party of significance could 
come out in open support of the agitating students. The BJP was 
worst hit as the agitating students belonged to the primary social 

282 



group, that owed allegiance to the party. Its leaders were ac- 
costed by angry mobs as they tried to douse passions, and they 
were repeatedly asked about their inability to criticise the 
government action. At the end of the first month of the mayhem 
sparked off by the decision of V.P. Singh, scores of students had 
either immolated themselves or had had a close shave with 
death, following an attempt to set fire to themselves. There had 
also been clashes between students who supported the action, 
and those who were opposed to it. 

V.P. Singh had in fact done precious little but to implement 
what various political parties had been promising, for more than 
a decade. One of the legacies of the Janata Party government, at 
the heart of the contentious conflict, was a report presented to 
the government by a commission to study the situation of the 
Backward castes, and recommend changes in the existing 
government laws to better their lot. The commission headed by 
a Bihar politician Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal, submitted the 
report which among recommendations asked for reserving 27 
per cent of the government jobs, for the wards of the Backward 
caste families. This was to be in addition to the existing reserva- 
tion of twelve and a half per cent, for the members of the 
Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The report submitted in the early 
1980s, however, had not been implemented, though it had been 
a promise in the election manifesto on several occasions. The 
promise had also been made in the National Front manifesto but, 
as had been the past tradition, there were few party leaden 
besides the committee appointed to draft the manifesto, who 
took the promise seriously. The policies of all governments had 
been guided more by reaipoUtik than idealistic convictions of 
fulfilling electoral promises which were generally made to be 
forgotten, after coming to power. 

India woke up on August 8, 1990, a day before the grand 
support r for Devi Lai was to overrun the capital, to the news 
that the National Front government had decided to implement 
the Mandal Commission report. The decision was clearly taken 


283 



with the aim of chaUdng out the Backward castes as the electoral 
base by, V.P. Singh. Faced with growing internal dissensions, 
Singh took the most controversial decision because he knew that 
it would be difficult for most politicians and pditicd parties to 
criticise the action, as the Backward castes constituted the 
majority of Hindus, and were vote banks of significance in 
several parts of north India. The situation was markedly different 
in the greater part of southern India, where caste conflicts had 
been resolved in favour of the Backward castes several years ago. 
Upper caste college students in the capital were the first to take 
to the streets, and they forced the closure of educational institu- 
tions. Several government offices were also closed, as commut- 
ing became difficult following large-scale attacks on various 
modes of public transport. 

Private vehicles were also attacked by spontaneous student 
organisations opposing the Mandal award and people chose to 
stay indoors. In Delhi, the first of the immolation bids was by 
an awkward-looking hitherto apolitical Brahmin studeht, Rajiv 
Goswami, who later went on to become the president of the Delhi 
University Students' Union, riding the crest of a sympathy 
wave. Throughout August, there was little else which made it 
to the headlines. If Upper-caste students agitated and burnt 
themselves and public property, students from the Backward 
castes slowly started organising themselves, and taking out 
demonstrations in support of the government decision. At places 
where the two groups came face to face, there were also instances 
of clashes between them. From a state of social tranquillity dis- 
turbed only by the political drama within the Janata Dal, India 
was soon drawn into the vortex of caste conflicts, and all issues 
appeared to be of lesser importance. Restoring social peace was 
the main concern of all, and for a moment it appeared that V.P. 
Singh had been able to win the day, by merely underlining the 
contradictions within Hindu society. 

The decision to implement the Mandal commission report, 
silenced the critics of V.P. Singh both within the Janata Dal and 


284 



outside, as Singh was in a position to address his newly carved 
out electoral base to accuse all his critics of being opposed to any 
attempt to try to uplift the Backward castes. The move helped 
as the anti'V.P. Singh passions were doused considerably within 
the Janata Dal, and the Congress too was in no position to launch 
an offensive against the government. However, the worst hit by 
the Government action, was the BJP and other RSS affiliates, as 
all hopes of forging an all-encompassing Hindu solidarity ap- 
peared to be fast diminishing, as Upper castes clashed with the 
Backward castes, and in places where violence did not erupt in 
the open, social tension precluded any possibility of joint action 
for a common cause. The ire of the BJP at the government 
decision can be gauged ffom a conversation between Advani 
and V.P. Singh, that was made common knowledge. A day 
before the decision to implement the Mandal Commission report 
was announced, Advani told Singh that both he and Somnath 
Chatterjee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would like 
to discuss the issue with the Prime Minister. A meeting between 
them had been scheduled two days later, but Advani claimed 
that Singh refused to oblige by pleading that he had to announce 
the decision the next day. Advani claimed that Singh added: 
"You can well understand why I have to do it. He did not 
specifically refer to the rally, but the implications were clear".”* 
However, the common refrain among significant sections of the 
Indian intelligentsia, and non-BJP political circles in the weeks 
following the decision of the government was simplistic at one 
level, but also indicative of the major problem area for the RSS 
clan: "V.P. Singh has finished the mandir with Mandal". The BJP 
also had to weather the problem created by J.K. Jain, one of its 
Rajya Sabha members, who went on fast against the government 
decision. Jain's action violated party discipline, but he had the 
support of senior RSS leaders. 

Anoth(. : veteran BJP leader, J.P. Mathur, a secretary of the 
party and a RSS pracharak since his youth, was also to recapitulate 
the assessment of the party in the weeks following the decision 


285 



of the govenunent and the resulting assessment in the country. 
He said: ''We suddenly realised what a dangerous man V.P. 
Singh was. While we were supporting his government, he was 
very neatly trying to cut the grass from below our feet"."’ If the 
decision of the Prime Minister to implement the recommenda- 
tions of the Mandal Commission silenced the critics of Singh 
within the Janata Dal and forced the Congress and other forces 
opposed to the Prime Minister to rethink their strategies, it made 
the RSS clan desperate as all the good work of 1989 appeared to 
be coming to a naught as Hindus found 'hate symbols' within 
their own community, and not in other communities. 

A series of informal meetings in August between various 
leaders of different RSS affiliates concluded that the fraternity 
had to come up with a unique programme to prevent the com- 
plete fragmentation of Hindu society. Informal discussions with 
several RSS and other BJP leaders in subsequent weeks revealed 
that almost all participants in the deliberations felt that the Ram 
temple issue still was the "best hope" for the RSS clan, t« build 
bridges between different warring Hindu caste groups. How- 
ever, none of the programmes announced by the VHP till that 
time had the capacity to create ^ euphoria, that would override 
the schisms created by the Mandal award. That was when the 
RSS clan emerged with a true trump card that was to be played 
by the BJP president. The card pitchforked Advani into interna- 
tional prominence, and ensured the end of the tenure of V.P. 
Singh in less than one year after he assumed office. 

Seeking Mythological Support 

It was called the Rath Yatra and was a last ditch attempt by the 
RSS clan to regain the political initiative, lost to V.P. Singh by 
his decision. It envisaged Advani travelling in a modified Light 
Commercial Vehicle, with design alterations to give an impres- 
sion of an ancient chariot. He was to travel from Somnath, the 
western filnge of India, to Ayodhya, and was to traverse nine 

286 



states besides the capital, and the entire sojourn was to last for 
36 days, during which Advani would stop at regular intervals 
to address the gathered crowd, and ask them to go to Ayodhya 
to participate in the kar seva programme. He would also ask 
whether the government was right in criticising the Rath Yatra 
and whether the Hindus of this country were to be denied the 
right to build a temple for Ram. Within days of starting on his 
sojourn, Advani's image started acquiring the halo of a 
mythological character, as images were publicised of him astride 
the LCV with a bow in hand. He looked every bit a mythological 
warrior venturing to seize what was his rightfully, and was 
enlisting the support of the people in his attempt. 

When the decision of the RSS clan to launch Advani on this 
strenuous journey was made public on September 12, and later 
in the third week of September, when the route of the Yatra was 
finalised at Bhopal during an orientation camp for the party's 
legislators and parliamentarians, there were few who anticipated 
the public response that Advani got along his route. However, 
by the time the BJP president traversed one-fourth of his 10,000- 
odd kilometer journey, the Rath Yatra started shaping up as "one 
of the biggest mass movements"’^ in post-Independence India. 
The reasons for this are not difficult to comprehend. Tradition- 
ally, Hindu society has a long tradition of yatras for pilgrimage 
and it gives a selfless halo to the person undertaking it, amidst 
great hardships. The cheriot also symbolises an offensive move 
for a good cause and it had been used on several occasions in 
Indian politics most notably by N.T. Rama Rao when he 
launched his Chaitanya Ratham, after being displaced from 
power in Andhra Pradesh by Indira Gandhi. I.ater, it was also 
used by Devi Lai during his pre-election campaign who called 
his modified coach the Vijay Rath. 

AdvanTs Rath Yatra thus appealed it two levels: As a . 
pilgriir ge undertakenby a person, and as an offensive against the 
government to give a rightful place to a revered god of the Hindu 
pantheon. In spite of orchestrated attempts by the government 


287 



and political adversaries of the RSS clan, as far as public perception 
was concerned, Advani's was a righteous mission and he had to be 
supported. Support for the Yatra came in two ways: By congregat- 
ing at the places where the Ad vani bandwagon stopped and by lis- 
tening to his speeches where he detailed the BJP's position on the 
Ayodhya dispute and elaborated on the concept of the Hindutva 
idea. On every occasion, Advani would say that themainaim of his 
venture was to ensure that Hindus, who constituted the majority 
in India, "lived with dignity and not oppressed by the assertions of 
all governments that they had to give special privileges to the 
minorities, because of their numerical status." Advani was also 
helped by skillful media managements by his pcirty organisers and 
by his co-traveller, party secretary Pramod Mahajan, who made it 
a point to enable all journalists trailing the Yatra to travel with Ad- 
vani, for a certain distance. This ensured adequate news coverage, 
and by the time the Yatra entered Delhi to a rousing reception, Ad- 
vani claimed that "everyone could see the impact of the Yatra ex- 
cept the Prime Minister" . 

One of the reasons why the Rath Yatra was a big success was 
the high level of organisational preparedness of the BJP and other 
affiliates of the RSS. We have seen earlier how the VHP had 
prepared for its silver jubilee year in 1989 and the infrastructure 
had not been dismantled. Coupled with the traditional RSS net- 
work, it had awesome potential to mobilise support. In 1990, it 
had been the BJP' s turn to bee^ up its organisational apparatus, 
and this was done through a committee headed by party vice- 
president Sunder Singh Bhandari, a veteran RSS worker. The 
veteran leader was appointed to head a committee to take stock 
of the organisational network, and suggest methods to improve 
it during the executive session in Calcutta in April. The interim 
report of the committee was submitted at the executive meeting 
in Madras in July, and among other recommendations, it made 
the following significant suggestions: 

a) Appoint full-time general secretaries in charge of organisa- 
tional activities in all districts 


288 



b) Establish a Research Policy Formulation and Publicity Cell 
at the national level to disseminate party policies; and 

c) Streamline Central and state party offices with help of 
modem technology including computerisation 

These recommendations indicated the BJP leadership's 
realisation that it had to move with the changing times, and alter 
the method of organisational management. This was in sharp 
contrast to the ruling front, particularly the Janata Dal, which 
hardly had any organisation worth its name in any state. The 
party was still continuing like an organisation whose sole agenda 
were agitations in spite of the fact that it was governing the 
country. The extensive cadre base of the BJP, helped it at the 
local level by publicising each of the party's actions, while the 
adversaries of the BJP failed to publicise any of the government's 
decisions including those taken on the Ayodhya issue. 

In the midst of the protests over the government decision to 
implement the Mandal Commission report, the VHP went ahead 
with its action programme as announced at Haridwar, and later 
modified at Vrindavan. However, none of the programmes 
evoked the kind of enthusiasm that the shila pujan had 
generated. This had greatly to do with the caste tensions among 
various Hindu caste groups, following the Mandal Commission 
decision. The fire consecration ritual v.’as held in Ayodhya on 
September 1 as planned earlier, but the ceremony did not witness 
any hysteria even in the temple town. The V'HP had also started 
enlisting volunteers for the kar seva programme, through the 
Shri Ram Kar Seva Samitis that had been floated wherever the 
VHP or any other RSS affiliate had a presence. Even though the 
VHP leaders publicly dec lared that the response was good, in 
private conversations they confessed that the government 
decision had created problems for them as the people were 
"preoccupied". The lukewarm response of the people in joining 
the VHP "igitation was one of the principal reasons for the RSS 
clan to launch Advani on the Rath Yatra. 

The government meanwhile had also resumed the threads of 

289 



negotiations and the union minister of state for Home Affairs, 
Subodh Kant Sahay, individually met the leaders of the VHP 
and the Babri Action Committee in July. Little however was to 
surface in these meetings, as the two groups did not budge from 
their known postures: The Babri groups demanded the removal 
of the idols, and the restoration of the mosque to the Muslims; 
and the VHP insisted that its contention was not a judiciable 
matter, and the only solution would be if the Muslims agreed to 
relocate the present structure. FoP awing the realisation that this 
approach would not lead the government towards any feasible 
solution, the government initiated a series of unofficial parleys 
with the religious leaders in an attempt to marginalise the VHP. 
The Prime Minister had two emissaries in Krishna Kant, the 
governor of Andhra Pradesh, and Mohammed Yunus Saleem, 
governor of Bihar who individually met with Jayendra Saras- 
wati, Shankaracharya of Kanchi and Maulana Ali Mian Nadvi, 
a Lucknow based Islamic theologian. Other religious leaders 
were also enlisted and the government succeeded in getting 
them to issue appeals asking people to maintain peace. These 
implorings of the religious leaders were publicised on the 
government controlled media. Krishna Kant was trying to con- 
vince the Shankaracharya to head a Trust, that would build a 
new temple without demolishing the existing structure. 

Ali Mian was subsequently taken by Kant to Kanchipuram, the 
seat of the Shankaracharya, where the .two religious leaders met 
and agreed to the government viewpoint, that political elements 
should be kept out of the Ayodl.r /a ssue, and the matter should be 
resolved by religious leaders o's the two communities. The 
Shankaracharya convened a press conference and issued a public 
statement in which he tom-tomed the government line. However, 
this alerted the VHP and others in the RSS clan, who in turn ap- 
proached Vishvesha Teerth, the swami of Udipi, who had hosted 
the significant Dharam Sansad in 1985 when the Ayodhya agita- 
tion was revived, after being in cold storage following Indira 
Gandhi's assassination. The government also established contact 


290 



with the Udipi saint through a bureaucrat, and through Janata Dal 
leaders from Karnataka, R.K. Hegde and S.R. Bommai, and later 
by Krishna Kant. The suggestions made to him were similar to the 
one Kant had made to the Shankaracharya of Kanchi. A meeting 
was fixed at Delhi but before attending it, Teerth was briefed by 
Ashok Singhal. At the meeting, Teerth ruled out the formation of a 
new trust and demanded that the task of construction be handed 
over to the Trust formed by the VHP. He also said that a new 
temple could be built over the existing shrine by using pillars. 

Subsequently, the government convened a meeting of 
religious leaders from the two communities, which however 
ended in a deadlock as both groups articulated the known views 
of the VHP and the Babri groups. This marked the end of the 
negotiations between the religious leaders, and left the govern- 
ment with no option but to explore a political solution to the 
dispute. The government had erred by projecting its aim to 
weaken the VHP, by weaning away the Hindu religious leaders 
from its fold while making no attempt to lessen the stranglehold 
of the Babri groups, on the Islamic theologians. The strategy of 
the government further enabled the VHP to publicise within its 
ranks its argument, that the dice was heavily loaded against the 
Hindus as the government was sympathetic towards the Mus- 
lims. In hindsight, it is evident that the National Front made the 
mistake of considering minority fundamentalism less dangerous, 
than Hindu fundamentalism. 

By the second week of September, the process of social and 
political polarisation had started. The RSS clan was moving 
towards a heady confrontation at Ayodhya, the forces inimical 
to V.P. Singh in the Janata Dal, and a section in the industry were 
aiding the RSS affiliates. What brought diverse political and 
economic forces together was the blind hatred of Singh. The 
Congress too watched the scenario in a participative manner as 
it began sensing the fall of the government and its eventual 
return in a virtual rerun of 1979. The growing confrontation was 
also aided by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister who decided that 


291 



after V.P. Singh, it was his turn to carve a permanent electoral 
constituency in the state. He embarked on an ambitious 
programme of staging public rallies in every district of the state, 
where he asserted that his government would not allow the kar 
seva programme and would even disallow Advani's Rath Yatra 
from entering the state. In his enthusiasm, aimed at enlisting the 
support of the Muslims, Yadav declared that he would "not even 
allow a bird to flutter" in Ayodhya on October 30. The weeks 
preceding the launch of the Rath Yatra, and the subsequent 
developments smacked of high intensity political melodrama. 
Events moved at a lightning speed and even Advani was forced 
to liken Indian polity as a "cassette player whose 'play' button 
had been jammed and was on a perpetual 'fast forward'."'^’’ 

V.P. Singh did not heed the warning bells sounded by his 
communist allies, and refused to halt the progress of the Yatra. 
By the time Advani reached Delhi on October 14 after traversing 
through the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra 
Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana, a ground 
swell of support for the Hindutva idea was evident. While on 
his sojourn, Advani had briefly halted at Nagpur where he met 
with Balasaheb Deoras, and othensenior RSS leaders to take stock 
of the situation. At this meeting it was agreed that the RSS clan 
could not afford to allow V.P. Singh to continue as Prime Mini- 
ster, and the BJP should withdraw support to the government 
at the first available opportunity. It was anticipated that this 
opportunity would come the moment the Rath Yatra was 
stopped, and Advani detained. The Prime Minister however, did 
not heed the signals and believed that the BJP was merely calling 
a bluff, and would backtrack at the last minute on the question 
of withdrawing support to his government. 

Events moved at a swifter pace after the entry of the Rath 
Yatra in Delhi. The BJP while finalising the route to be taken by 
Advani, had cleverly split the yatra into two phases. From Delhi, 
Advani was to proceed to Bihar by train after spending a few 
days in the capital, while the LCV was driven to Dhanbad where 


292 



the BJP leader was to alight from the train. The break of five days 
was given ostensibly on account of the festival of Deewali but, 
it was apparent that the BJP leadership expected the government 
to resume talks, as the Rath Yatra entered its final phase. The 
BJP was also to decide on the crucial issue of withdrawing sup- 
port from the government. Neither of these decisions could have 
been taken in the absence of Advani, as by the time the Rath had 
traversed less than half the decided route, Advani was towering 
over the party, and there were few challenges to him. The BJP 
was sure that the National Front government would cave in to 
public pressure like the Congress government had done in 1989, 
and allowed shilanyas. When the Rath Yatra reached Delhi, V.P. 
Singh's silence in spite of repealed demands from both within 
the Janata Dal, and outside it, was interpreted by several BJP 
leaders as an indication that the Prime Minister was considering 
options, regarding how to allow the kar seva programme. 

However, even though the government explored the pos- 
sibility of a negotiated settlement, the majority of these parleys 
were of an informal nature and thus no records were kept with 
the Home Ministry. This has led various political groups making 
different claims regarding the details of the meetings and their 
postures therein. While dwelling on the negotiations between 
the religious kaders during July, a Home ministry report stated 
that the "available record of the Home ministry contains very 
little material," on me second phase of talks that started after 
the arrival of the Rath Yatra the same report says that the negotia- 
tions "were of an informal nature, and proper and systematic 
record of these meetings are not available". I'he BJP has charged 
that the National Front government "conducted totally informal, 
and unrecorded negotiations in the most secretive manner".’^ 
However, it is clear that given the antipathy of the RSS clan 
towards the Prime Minister, after his decision to implement the 
Mam’al Commission report, there was little chance of the 
government to conduct formal talks with the leaders of the RSS 
clan. The best hope for the government was to conduct behind 


293 



the scene parleys and if any success appeared imminent, bring 
the discussions into the open. This is borne out by the arguments 
of several key Janata Dal leaders who were engaged in the at- 
tempt to find a breakthrough on the Ayodhya issue, who stated 
that after the Mandal award it was evident that the BJP would 
try to scuttle all attempts to evolve a consensus on the dispute. 

However, if V.P. Singh found little support from the RSS clan in 
trying to u'nravel the Ayodhya tangle, his efforts to project a new 
Muslim leadership, bore fruit as in the third week of October, 
when protracted negotiations were conducted by the government, 
the Muslim groups for once did not precipitate matters. At a meet- 
ing of Muslim leaders and theologians convened by the Shahi 
Imam of the capital's Jama Masjid on October 14, the tone was in 
sharp contrast to the earlier postures, when the meeting resolved 
that the "Muslims alone should not take the lead in preventing the 
Rath Yatra". The shift in strategy was in response to the explicit 
campaign of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, who in his series of 
public meetings in the state, had repeatedly declared tha^he 
would not allow Advani's bandwagon to enter the state. He also 
stated that he would ensure the protection of the disputed shrine at 
all costs. Yadav had been able to enlist the support of other political 
parties, and a grand public meeting was held in the state capital on 
October 12. The political parties endorsed Yadav's decision, and 
the meeting of the Muslims leaders while reviewing the political 
scenario, declaring that it had "appreciated with satisfaction the 
declaration which condemned the Rath Yatra, and resolved to 
prevent its entry into the state." The meeting was a notable 
development, as the majority of Muslim groups agitating for the 
restoration of the Babri Masjid to the community decided to take 
the back seat and allow the UP government and other non-BJP, 
non-Congress parties from carrying out a campaign against the 
RSS clan, and the Rath Yatra. Jawed Habeeb one of the Muslim 
leaders who participated in the meeting, said that he saw little 
reason for the Muslims to lake matters lo a head "on their own, 
when there are other political parties willing lo do the same". The 


294 



argument of Habeeb and others in the meeting was that the Mus- 
lim leadership should play second fiddle to Yadav and his as- 
sociates, as direct involvement of the Muslim leadership, would 
give a fillip to the RSS and its affiliates, as it would be able to shift 
the nature of the controversy from a "political one to a religious 
dispute. A Hindu versus Muslim situation had always helped the 
VHP, and we did not want to repeal the past mistakes," Habeeb 
had contended. 

V.P. Singh resumed negotiations after the entry of the Rath 
Yatra in the capital, and one of his first actions was to invite the 
well-known chartered accountant, S. Gurumurthy, an RSS 
swayamsevak for long, and also an influential person in his own 
right by way of his connections with the Indian Express chain 
of newspapers. The BJP claimed that the two Singh and 
Gurumurthy "sat in four sessions for over four hours in the 
evening to well past midnight". The Prime Minister sought the 
chartered accountant's suggestions on the controversy, and it 
was suggested to him that the government "should acquire the 
entire disputed area, and hand it over to the VHP Trust, but 
retain the disputed structure with a 30 feet area around it under 
its title and possession, and refer the issue whether there was a 
pre-existing Hindu structure for judicial opinion to the Supreme 
Court". Gurumuiwiy said that such a reference to the Supreme 
Court should be made under Article 143 of the Constitution, and 
the BJP claimed that the i^rime Minister "readily accepted the 
suggestion". Gurumurthy was to communicate this to the RSS- 
VHP leadership and as a reciprocal gesture, the "movement of 
kar sevaks should stop or be slowed down". This was communi- 
cated to the RSS-VHP leadership by Gurumurthy and later 
"relayed back their acceptance" to the Prime Minister.’“‘’ 

However, the RSS clan decided to keep the pressure on the 
government, and the BJP convened an emergency session of its 
executivf in the capital on October 17. The meeting underlined 
the fact that by that time the BJP and others in the RSS clan had 
virtually decided to ground the National Front government. 


295 



and all efforts to evolve a negotiated settlement, was primarily 
a facade for the BJP. The executive of the BJP resolved that the 
government must "honour the sentiments of the people and 
allow a temple to be built". It was clear that for the BJP there 
was no other way to resolve the crisis, but to allow the temple 
to be built in the manner decided by the VHP. It was the 
responsibility of the government to find out means by which 
the temple construction programme could get started, and if it 
failed in locating a way out, the BJP would withdraw support 
to the government, thus reducing it to a minority status in Par- 
liament. The BJP made it clear that if the government "disrupts 
the Rath Yatra, the BJP would be constrained to withdraw sup- 
port to the government". The party leadership also announced 
that it had been decided that Atal Behari Vajpayee, the leader of 
the parlizimentary wing of the party, would march to the Presi- 
dent and hand over the letter withdrawing support the moment 
Advani's bandwagon was halted, and the BJP leader placed 
under detention. The executive also spelt out the party's jeser- 
vations on the Mandal award. The two main charges against the 
government was that the decision had been taken without "any 
consultation of the supporting parties," and that the decision 
had been made public "without qualifying it with an economic 
criteria". It was apparent that while the BJP was in no position 
to oppose caste-based reservations per se, it wa? trying to dilute 
the opposition to it by promising reservations for the economi- 
cally backward among the Upper castes. The party leadership 
also rightly claimed that this approach had been followed by 
the party with consistency, since its inception. 


Arresting Governance 


Even though the die had been cast a day earlier, the government 
continued its efforts to hammer out a negotiated settlement. On 
October 18, George Fernandes and P. Upendra, Ministers in the 
Union cabinet, met with the VHP strongman Ashok Singhal at 

296 



the RSS office in the capital, and informed him that the govern- 
ment was proposing to promulgate an ordinance that would 
acquire the disputed property, and hand over the land to the 
VHP Trust while retaining the disputed shrine. V,P. Singh also 
had a meeting with the BJP general secretary, Govindacharya, 
and Anin Jaitley, the BJP leader who had been appointed Addi- 
tional Solicitor General by the government. The discussions in 
this meeting related to the issue of an Ordinance, and the even- 
tual reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the 
Constitution. Subsequent to this a draft ordinance was prepared 
by officials, which however was not released as it had to be 
whetted from various angles. The Prime Minister also sum- 
moned Gurumurthy, who had in the meanwhile left for Madras. 

By late evening on October 18 however, opposition was grow- 
ing to the government's move to acquire the property, and hand 
over the land to the VHP, as it was seen by critics as an attempt 
similar to the Congress government's decision to allow 
shilanyas, the previous year. V.P. Singh met Gurumurthy on 
October 19 and in the meeting Singh stated that the government 
would not hand over the disputed land to the VHP Trust, but 
that they would start construction outside the disputed area. 
Gurumurthy said that this would not be acceptable to the BJP, 
and other RSS auiliates. Another meeting was scheduled and 
Singh requested Advani, to defer resuming his Rath Yatra by a 
day, which he refused arguing that there was little need for him 
to be present, if the Ordinance was promulgated on the lines 
agreed upon. Even as Advani left for Dhanbad by train, ministers 
and officials huddled together and drafted out the Ordinance 
that was eventually released late that night. 

However, the government move came in for sharp criticism. 
The Muslim groups charged that the government was trying to 
"allow the temple through the back door". The Muslim leader- 
ship als'^: found a supporter in Mulayam Singh Yadav, who felt 
that the promulgation of the Ordinance went against his cam- 
paign in the last several weeks, and that if he allowed the 


297 



Centre's move, he would suffer a loss of face in his growing 
constituency. Yadav virtually threatened the Centre that he 
would not implement the Ordinance, and the subsequent hand- 
ing over of land to the VHP. However, the BJP and others in the 
RSS clan "cautiously welcomed the move," as the decision was 
in tune with the agreement between Singh and them. Even at 
that stage, Singh had not yet taken the decision to politically 
combat the BJP. His approach was to untangle the Ayodhya 
dispute for the moment, by allowing the kar seva programme, 
and in the process earn a fresh lease of life hot his government. 
However, criticism to the ordinance move within his own party, 
left Singh with no option but to backtrack and withdraw the 
Ordinance on October 21, and direct Bihar Chief Minister Laloo 
Yadav to arrest Advani early on October 23 at Sitamarhi. With 
these two decisions, the stage had been set for the biggest con- 
frontation so far in Ayodhya, between the activists of the RSS 
clan and the Indian State. 

Even though the go\'ernmcnl decided to arrest Advani the 
political viewpoint that the BJP and other affiliates of the RSS 
were propagating, w'as finding acceptance among large sections 
on Indian society. This is most evident in an internal intelligence 
report filed by an inspector of police on October 21, as it under- 
lines the sneaking support of the security forces for the BJP. The 
report charged the Janata Dal and Communist Parly of India 
leaders with "visiting Muslim localities (in Biharsharif, a com- 
munally sensitive town) and instigating them to prevent the Rath 
Yalra. The CPI workers along with Janata Dal leaders are likely 
to create communal tension in Biharsharif on the occasion of L.K. 
Advani's visit". At one level, this report gives credence to the 
argument of the BJP that the Rath Yatra did not lead to com- 
munal flare-ups, except on occasions when other political groups 
tried preventing it. I lowever, the point to be noted is that the 
author of the intelligence report has word only for the adver- 
saries of the BJP and not a word regarding how the supporters 
of the BJP were preparing for the Rath Yatra, or how efforts were 


298 



being made to ensure that the Muslims did not venture on the 
streets, when the cavalcade was passing through the area. 

The decision to arrest Advani however, was not taken by the 
local police, but by the state government. It was a political 
decision taken after due consultations with the Prime Minister. 
The raison d’etre cited for detaining Advani, was to "prevent him 
from acting in a manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public 
order". The BJP leader was arrested under sub-section (2) of 
Section 3 of the National Security Act, 1980, and shifted to a 
government guest house controlled by the Irrigation Department 
of the state government, in Dumka district of South Bihar. With 
the arrest of Advani, the fate of the National Front government 
had been sealed, but of greater importance than the eventual fall 
of the government, was the planned kar seva programme at 
Ayodhya as it was now apparent that it would be a no holds 
barred battle with Mulayam Singh Yadav, holding up the 
cudgels on behalf of the detractors of the RSS and its affiliates. 

Within hours of the news of Advani's arrest reaching Delhi, 
Vajpayee had handed over the letter stating the BJP's intent to 
withdraw support to the government, to President R. 
Venkataraman. The fact that Vajpayee led the BJP delegation lo the 
President, was symbolic as the veteran leader had expressed grave 
reservations on the Rat h Yatra. This indicated that the RSS clan had 
closed ranks to see the end of the National Front gewemment, and 
successfully storm Ayodhya. The BJP decided to launch a virtual 
assault on the temple-town. All senior leaders were to lead bands 
of kar sevaks. One of the biggest such brigades was to come from 
Madhya Pradesh adjoining Uttar Pradesh, as the BJP was in power 
in the state, and the entire ‘^t.ue machinery was sv.'ung into action 
to facilitate the movement or kar sevaks. Both the RSS clan and the 
UP government prepared themselves for the fateful day, even as 
V.P. Singh refused to tender his resignation, and instead declared 
that he w mid face Parliament and try proving his majority on the 
floor of the House. 

Mulayam Singh Yadav, meanwhile, sealed the borders of the 

299 



state and canceled several trains and long distance buses. All 
over the state, public buses were stopped, and if anyone was 
suspected to be bound for Ayodhya, he or she was detained. The 
senior BJP leader, Vijaya Raje Scindia was detained just after she 
entered Uttar Pradesh from Madhya Pradesh. She was leading 
a band of women, members of a militant women's wing of the 
BJP, euphemistically called Durga Vahini, along with the emerg- 
ing firebrand woman MP from Khajuraho, Uma Bharti. Soon, it 
became a matter of prestige between the state government, and 
those who wanted to reach the temple-town. However, the ab- 
sence of public transport did not deter the people from walking 
for several kilometres, through villages and fields to reach Ayod- 
hya. The districts adjoining Faizabad were replete with families 
willing to extend a helping hand to the band of marchers. Every- 
thing from water to food, to a place of rest was made available 
to the people, who themselves felt that they had embarked on a 
historic mission. With the deadline to start construction fast ap- 
proaching, it was clear that there was little trace of the schism 
in Hindu society, that had surfaced after the government 
decision to implement the Mandal Commission report. The Rath 
Yatra and other programmes of the VHP had been able to build 
the bridges between various caste groups once again. The 'hate 
symbol' was no longer among the co-religionists, but among the 
Muslims and in the disputed shrine at Ayodhya. Frenzied 
youngsters headed towards Ayodhya, and at places their en- 
thusiasm turned into anger against Muslims whose houses they 
attacked. The stale government did its best to prevent a large 
assembly, but there was little it could do except man the state 
highways, and when the kar sevaks marched through fields, it 
was a losing battle for the security forces. Breaking through the 
security cordon was also VHP leader Ashok Singhal who sur- 
faced in the temple-town on October 28 in spite of attempts of 
the intelligence agencies to locate his whereabouts and arrest 
him. After appearing in Ayodhya, Singhal declared that the 
programme would go on as planned earlier, and promptly went 


300 



underground in the temple-town. He monitored the developing 
situation, but there was little that the police could do to trace 
him. Almost all the leaders of the BJP and the VHP who headed 
towards Ayodhya, were arrested and they included Mahant 
Avaidyanath, and Swami Chinmayanand another religious 
leader associated with the temple agitation he later joined the 
BJP and became a member of Parliament. It was a veritable war 
situation, with the RSS clan declaring that it was determined to 
start kar seva and Yadav stating that he would not allow the 
disputed shrine to be damaged. 

What finally happened on October 30, and in the subsequent 
days has been documented by the media extensively. In the final 
analysis, both Yadav and the VHP claimed that they had won 
the day. Yadav's contention was that in spite of orchestrated 
attempts of the VHP and its allies, the state government had 
successfully protected the Babri Ma.sjid, and that the damage to 
it in the attack by hundreds of kar sevaks on October 30, had 
been marginal that could be repaired within a matter of a few 
hours. The VHP on its part cited the use of "brute force" and 
argued that in spite of such opposition, the kar sevaks had suc- 
cessfully broken through the security cordon and hoisted saffron 
flags atop the Babri Masjid. I'he firing on the determined band 
of kar sevaks on Nf -vember 2 when they attempted to march 
towards the Babri Masjid for the second time led to Yadav being 
nicknamed 'Mullah Mulayam' by the VHP activists. More than 
two dozen kar sevaks died in the firings on October 30 and 
November 2, however, Yadav still had no qualms about using 
force. He asserted that government had to "decide at times what 
is more important: Human lives or the law of the land. I chose 
to uphold the Constitution ot India". For his hard-line ap- 
proach in 1990, Yadav has been able to car\'e out a permanent 
niche for himself in the average Muslim mind, and a correspond- 
ing hatred from the supporters of the RSS clan. 

With political developments heating up in the capital, the 
VHP decided to suspend any further action in Ayodhya, as it 


301 



was clear that Yadav was determined to thwart any attempt by 
the VHP activists to enter the Babri Masjid. There was also the 
added factor that the RSS clan had been able to extract the max- 
imum advantage from the kar seva programme: The Ram temple 
agitation had acquired the character of one of the "biggest mass 
movements in post-Independence India," and it was time for the 
advocates of the Hindutva idea to consolidate politically follow- 
ing the ideological and social consolidation. There was also a 
sense of achievement among the kar sevaks who had gathered 
in Ayodhya and there was no problem of the activists being 
disheartened at not being able to start construction. The leaders 
of the RSS affiliates assembled in Ayodhya argued in speeches 
that after the ouster of V.P. Singh's government, the next twin 
moves should be to show the door to Yadav and vote in a new 
government that was sympathetic to the temple cause meaning 
the BJP. The decision to suspend the kar seva programme and 
ask the kar sevaks to return home was a tactical retreat from the 
temple-town to prepare for the next round, thereby enabling the 
BJP to get a greater stranglehold on Indian politics. 

However, there had been visible schisms also in the VHP 
during the week-long programme at Ayodhya. A number of 
religious leaders most notably Swami Vamdev felt that the 
decision to try marching again to the Babri Masjid on November 
2 was wrong as it "unnecessarily exposed the unarmed kar 
sevaks to bullets". The decision was taken at the behest of Ashok 
Singhal who contended that a few lives lost would only help the 
agitation. He wanted the assembled activists to make another 
attempt to storm the Babri masjid, but was opposed at a meeting 
of the senior VHP leaders camping at Ayodhya. At that stage, 
the religious leaders who were lending support to the VHP agita- 
tion were yet to come to terms with the fact that the RSS clan 
viewed the Ram temple programme essentially as a means to 
further the growth of the BJP. Swami Vamdev, even though 
consulted on the issue of the nominating the next BJP president 
Advani's two terms as president was coming to an end, and since 


302 



the party constitution disallowed any office-bearer from continu- 
ing for more than two two-year terms was still unclear about his 
active participation in politics. He also articulated the scepticism 
of the majority of religious leaders regarding the sincerity of the 
BJP in building the temple if it was voted into office. This con- 
tradiction among the protagonists of the Ram temple among the 
traditionalists from the RSS fold and the neo-converts, which 
included the religious leaders, was a difficult problem for the 
RSS leadership to surmount especially as the religious leaders 
had for long owed allegiance to the Congress. What made the 
problem more acute for the RSS clan were divisions within their 
own ranks on the manner in which the BJP had led the temple 
agitation from the front since the government decision to imple- 
ment the Mandal Commission report in July. Scepticism had 
been openly aired by Atal Behari Vajpayee and his views were 
shared by a large number of party leaders who felt that the BJP 
was getting stuck with the image of an party that had little 
concerns beyond the Ayodhya agitation. 

While the greater part of the Ayodhya drama was enacted in 
public, there were significant contributions fi’om behind the 
scenes. One such person who played a key role was S.C. Dixit, 
a retired Director-General of Police of the state, who had joined 
the VHP after his retirement. With the security forces throwing 
a security ring around Ayodhya, Dixit was instrumental in draw- 
ing up routes to be taken by the kar sevaks, and this was done 
with the help of loyal former colleagues, who revealed the 
security plans of the police. Dixit was among the first batch of 
kar sevaks that entered the Babri Masjid on October 30 to start 
hammering at the iron grill inside the compound, and hoist the 
saffron flags atop the domes after damaging them marginally. 
His presence was one of the reasons why the police did not open 
fire on the kar sevaks till the time they entered the Babri Masjid, 
and started damaging the shrine. Dixit was also instrumental in 
the VHP decision to mobilise the largest contingent of kar sevaks 
on the eastern side of the temple-town across the river Saryu and 


303 



when the activists inarched towards Ayodhya, the police was ill 
prepared, and even after opening fire could not prevent the 
hordes firom crossing the bridge and thus entering the town. 
There had been intelligence failure and in hindsight Mulayam 
Singh Yadav conceded that "security plans were leaked to Dbdt" . 

Heroines Upfront 

If Ayodhya had its share of heroes in the form of Dixit and other 
kar sevaks who were killed in the police firing, it also had its 
heroine. She was Uma Bharti, a first time member of Parliament 
from Khajuraho, a small town in central India, whose claim to 
fame before electing her in the 1989 elections, were the erotic 
sculptures in the temples. In her early thirties, she was a 
sanyasin, wore saffron robes, specialised in provocative speeches 
when she talked of the great injustice being done to the "Hindus 
in their own land". Drawn into the RSS fold since her childhood, 
her first initiation into the world view of the RSS, had come 
during her pravachans (religious sermons) as a child and as she 
grew in age, her fame travelled to newer parts and she was 
invited to more places. Spotted t)y Vijaya Raje Scindia during 
one such occasion, Uma Bharti was enrolled in the BJP, and given 
a party nomination in 1989 and won the seat for the party. Soon 
her charisma spread outside the constituency as the media 
profiled her on numerous occasions and she soon came to be 
referred as the 'sexy sanyasin.’ What got her the epithet was 
neither her extraordinary looks or her lifestyle, but the fact that 
she with her saffron robes evoked the image of the 'unattainable 
woman' and thereby generated a strong sexual image. 

As the media hype around her continued, Uma Bharti at- 
tained national prominence which was further bolstered by her 
ardent championing of the Ayodhya agitation. During the build- 
up to the kar seva programme, she addressed public gatherings 
in several states and drew great applause for her shrill oratory. 
However, the majority of her fans were not women, but men 

304 



especially the unemployed youth as was the case of the VHP. 
When Uma Bharti was heading for Ayodhya,she was arrested 
by the Uttar Pradesh police the moment she entered the state. 
Detained at a government guest house, she nonetheless staged 
a spectacular escape and surfaced in Ayodhya a day later sans 
hair. She disclosed to the assembled journalists that after her 
escape from the place of detention, she shaved off her head in 
an attempt to disguise herself and hitched lifts, including rides 
in police vehicles, to reach the temple-town. She claimed that the 
police stopped her on several occasions but none of them had 
been able to recognise her because of her new look. Uma Bharti 
was asked by journalists whether she had felt any remorse while 
shaviiig her head. She replied in the negative and declared, that 
she was willing to sacrifice anything for the' cause of the Ram 
temple. Another BJP member of Parliament from Gandhi Nagar 
in Gujarat, Harin Pathak, who had also sneaked past the police 
cordon into Ayodhya, was awe-struck on seeing Uma Bharti. His 
comment: "Umaji has sacrificed the near ultimate of femininity 
for the cause of the temple". 

Pathak, in fact, underlined the inherent sexuality in the Ayod- 
hya movement that surfaced during the kar seva programme in 
October, 1990. Given the fact that a large percentage of the neo- 
converts to the RSS fold who thronged Ayodhya were part of the 
large army of unemployed, directionless small town youth, whose 
search for an identity, often acquired sexftal overtones as they 
came from sexually repres'^ive backgrounds. As sex is traditional- 
ly viewed as a method of taking revenge and subjugating another 
community, there were open assertions by these youths that they 
wanted to humiliate Muslims in India, and sex would be the in- 
strument. This was evident in a large number of hastily painted 
graffiti in Ayodhya. They were unsigned slogaiis and each was in 
first person: "lam the son-in-law of Babur; I sleep with a Muslim's 
daughter; Zeenat Aman and Saira Banu are all available to me." 
7'heses!ov,ans were written all over the temple town and also scrib- 
bled on the dusty window panes of all traveling cars that the kar 


305 



sevaks would stop to check the occupants and elicit loud /ai Shri 
Ram slogans from the travelers. 

By October 1990, the activists of the RSS clan who gathered 
in Ayodhya, were no longer concerned merely with building a 
Ram temple after demolishing the Babri Masjid, rather, the sight 
had been set on total subjugation of the Muslims, and this was 
best articulated in terms of sexual humiliation of the community. 
The names of the leading Muslim film stars sex symbols of their 
time were cited in the graffiti as an indication of the real motive 
of the kar sevaks: 'We wish to sexually possess leading women 
from your community, as a symbolic act of the total subjugation 
of your lot.' In contrast, Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara, 
another sanyasin who had started making her presence felt by 
hysteric anti-Muslim speeches, that were freely available on 
audio cassettes and played on blaring microphones all over the 
country in the build-up to the kar seva programme, were also 
sexual s 3 nnnbols of a different kind. A miniscule section of the 
followers of these two women were feminine and the men who 
were drawn to them, came primarily out of the desire t<f see 
Hindu women who had the courage to question "centuries of 
subjugation of the Hindus, by the Islamic invaders and their 
ancestors". 

In several speeches, Rithambara would goad her audience 
comprising mainly unemployed youth and well-placed 
businessmen to "stir out of their impotency and give it back to 
them". Rithambara's body language there would often be move- 
ments that had strong parallels to the sexual gyrations seen in 
popular India cinema always complimented her words. The two 
women got religious sanctity from the saffron robes, and their ex- 
hortations could not be faulted. They symbolised the 'devi' cult 
that was trying to restore the lost virility of the Hindu youth. These 
speeches of Rithambara and Uma Bharti were one of the prime 
reason for the display of sexual aggression towards Muslims 
women, and it was in tune with die historical pattern of using sex 
as a tool for socio-political enslavement of the community, at the 


306 



receiving end. Complete hegemony is established over a com- 
munity after sexual dominance. 

Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara were in fact the first real 
women mass leaders in the entire RSS clan. In spite of the fact 
that the BJP has had few women as parliamentarians, except for 
a rare Vijaya Raje Scindia, her daughter Vasundhara Raje, or 
Sushma Swaraj from Haryana, few have either had mass appeal 
or been projected by the party leadership. Women have at best 
been treated as the euphemistic 'add-ons' in the party structure. 
Part of this stems from the fact that the RSS is an exclusive male 
organisation and even though a Rashtriya Swayamsevika Sangh 
was established way back in 1936, its growth has been negligible 
and has had little place in the scheme of things of the RSS leader- 
ship. This is evident in an interview by RSS joint secretary K. 
Sudarshan, who even while giving an "otherwise comprehensive 
account of RSS affiliates" forgot to mention the women's wing 
of the RSS. Unlike the Congress, the RSS never had key women 
leaders like Sarojini Naidu, Indira Gandhi, Tarakeshwari Sinha 
and others. This had been one of the principal factors for the 
failure of the BJP to have a substantial following among the 
women electorate, known for their frequent independent 
decisions during elections. Vijaya Raje Scindia has been a sig- 
nificant woman leader of the BJP throughout the 1980s, but she 
has had a Congress past and the image of a godmother stemming 
from her royalty. Howevek, in the case of Uma Bharti and Sadhvi 
Rithambara, the proverbial unique selling point has been 
religion. However, the women who have cast their lot with the 
BJP in the 1989 and 1991 elections have done so not because of 
the appeal of the two women leaders, but because of the 
stranglehold of the Ram cult on their consciousness. In the sub- 
sequent years, unless the RSS changes its strategy on enlisting 
the support of women, the present following among women has 
the likeiil.' ood of evaporating. However, the skillful use of Uma 
Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara has greatly benefited the BJP and 
other affiliates of the RSS. In the 1991 elections, Rithambara was 


307 



often used in election meetings to draw crowds and have them 
waiting before the arrival of senior leaders. The ploy succeeded 
as the popularity of the sanyasin had spread in the entire Hindi 
speaking areas, thanks to the audio cassettes available even in 
the small towns and relatively bigger hamlets. 

The kar seva programme of October 1990 also led to the 
growth of a veritable industry that manufactured audio and 
video cassettes, printed posters and booklets, produced stickers 
to be pasted, and even an assortment of clothes, ornaments and 
other accessories for women. The audio cassettes were manufac- 
tured by opportunistic businessmen who seized the chance and 
recorded the speeches of Uma Bharti, Rithambara, and cobbled 
together small bands, to sing various bhajans and appeals to 
people to assemble at Ayodhya, and participate in the kar seva 
programme. All these songs were set to the tune of popular 
Hindi films songs and they sought to evoke the image of the 
hero participating an an act of bravado, for the sake of the Ram 
temple, instead of the heroine as in the film. The songs were^et 
to the tune of popular songs from Hindi films because of the 
tremendous control of popular cinyma, on the average Indian 
mind. Both the target audience as also leaders like Uma Bharti 
and Rithambara had roots in the same cultural tradition and it 
was only natural that the tunes would evoke different images 
while the words would goad the listener to other goals. The 
video cassettes were produced by the BJP leader, J.K. Jain wl.o 
had gone on fast agdinst the decision to implement the Mandal 
Commission report. He runs a studio from the premises of Vijaya 
Raje Scindia. The cassettes first dwelt on thj myth of Ayodhya 
being the birthplace of Ram, and after the kar seva programme, 
skillfully presented the firing of November 2 as an incident 
similar to the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in magnitude. The cas- 
settes contributed greatly in propagating the VHP claim that 
"thousands had been killed by Mullah Mulayam when they tried 
to build a Ram temple". 


308 



Success With Symbols 

By the time the kar sevaks congregated at Ayodhya in October 
1990, the traditional north Indian greeting 'Jai Siya Ram' a 
phonetic deviation of 'Jai Sita Ram' had been sanskritised to 'Jai 
Shri Ram' and been given the connotation of a battle cry. It 
became the marching words of a community on the move, and 
was mouthed by the kar sevaks while they made their way to 
the temple town through the fields adjoining the town and later 
while launching the assault on the Babri Masjid on October 30 
and while ravaging a few Muslim houses on the outskirts of 
Ayodhya. The slogan had also been similarly used during 
Advani's Rath Yatra, and coupled with images of the BjP leader 
atop the modem chariot replete with bow and arrow, generated 
powerful images of a community that was no longer willing to 
take things l 3 dng down. The slogan was matched by the use of 
saffron bandannas with the slogan printed over it, and it virtually 
became the new uniform for the RSS clan. Similarly, lockets, and 
bracelets found their way to the market and traders did good 
business peddling these wares. For women, special bindis were 
manufactured with the sketch of the proposed temple ptinted 
on it. The success of these new s)nnbols can be gauged from the 
fact that in the Wl elections, the BJP also produced and dis- 
tributed similar material. Among women, there was a special 
demand for the bindis with the 'lotus' the election symbol of the 
BJP printed on it. The use of new icons has since been perfected 
by the RSS clan and they were again used to great benefit during 
the demolition of the Babri Masjid when the loud speakers ex- 
horted the assembled kar sevaks to "erase the symbol of shame". 
Other symbols and images have similarly become synon 3 rmous 
with the world view projected by the RSS and its affiliates. 

In the first week of November 1990, the kar sevaks who had 
come from various parts of the country, were jubilant. Mulayam 
Singh Yadav's claim that he would not allow any assembly in 
the temple-town, had been proved hollow and there had been 


309 



an upsurge of anger among Hindus at the firing on November 
2. Residents of Faizabad who had stayed aloof from the VHP led 
agitation so far took to the streets one night, and the Muslims of 
the district faced the wrath for the first time after the agitation 
was launched by the VHP. But with the imminent collapse of 
the V.P. Singh led government, the assembled kar sevaks also 
knew that it was time to make a tactical retreat from Ayodhya, 
and prepare for the eventual political battle. The kar sevaks 
wrote letters to their near ones which have been preserved by 
the families. One such written on November 4 stated that "there 
is great jubilation in our camp. Even though several kar sevaks 
have been killed, their deaths have been to our advantage. I have 
successfully completed what I came to do and thanks to Lord 
Rama, 1 am in a position to write this letter to you (it was 
addressed to the boy's mother). However, now the job is over 
and I have to return home to ensure that the party that cares for 
the Hindus gets a chance to govern Mother India". Given the 
understanding among the kar sevaks, there was no feeling* of 
disappointment at leaving the job of building a new temple 
unfinished, when the VHP leader^ip directed kar sevaks to 
return home. 

The action shifted to Delhi and the stage was Parliament 
where V.P. Singh was to try to prove his majority on November 
7. A one-line vote of confidence was moved by Singh, and a fiery 
debate followed during which charges were traded. The Con- 
gress voted against the motion, as also the BJP and the two 
parties along with the dissenters in the Janata Dal who split the 
party, ensured the ouster of the government. While participating 
in the debate on the motion of confidence, Advani explained the 
reasons leading to his party's decision to withdraw support from 
the government. Advani asserted that the government decision 
to stop the Rath Yatra, arrest him and prevent the start of con- 
struction at Ayodhya, was not the only reason leading to his 
party's decision, but it "certainly was the last straw". The main 
reason for the BJP to withdraw support to the government was 


310 



the decision to implement the Mandal Commission Report and 
the subsequent furore over it. He said that association with the 
government had become "more and more burdensome" for the 
BJP since June. 

However, the BJP had found it politically imprudent to 
withdraw support on the issue of the Mandal Commission and 
had to peg the decision on another issue. Advani himself cor- 
roborated the party's considerations when he declared that the 
"decision to withdraw support had to be related to something 
specific and important" . The BJP, when it informed the President 
that the party was withdrawing support from the government 
cited the detention of Advani. However, in August, the party 
could not have gone to R. Venkataraman to inform him that it 
was withdrawing support because V.P. Singh wanted to reserve 
jobs on the basis of caste. It would have led to the permanent 
alienation of the BJP with the backward castes and made V.P. 
Singh a demi-god of sorts among these castes. Instead, the BJP 
adopted the strategy of first eliminating the schisms that had 
surfaced in Hindu society through programmes like the Rath 
Yatra and kar seva and later withdrew it support to the V.P. 
Singh government. 

An interesting feature of the build-up to the kar seva 
programme was the marginal effect the RSS clan's campaign had 
in the state of Bihar. With a history of Backward caste assertion 
from the time the Janata Party formed the government in the 
state with Karpoori Thakur as Chief Minister, Bihar had seen the 
political ambitions of the Backward castes on the rise. Bihar also 
had a long history of caste tensions more than in any other Indian 
state. When the National Front government announced the Man- 
dal award, it was greeted with great joy in the the entire state, 
and this was utilised by Laloo Prasad Yadav, the Janata Dal Chief 
Minister to further polarise the state on the basis of caste, with 
the Backw^cd castes forming an alliance with the Muslims. The 
Rath Yatra and all other programmes of the VHP failed to evoke 
much response and the Chief Minister also shrewdly chose not 


311 



to highlight his criticism of the Ayodhya campaign during his 
public rallies, but instead, opted to highlight the government 
decision to implement the report, and the impact this had had 
on the political forces opposed to the political and social rise of 
the backward castes. 

The Ram temple agitation was projected as a Brahminical 
agitation, that would reinforce the second class status of the 
backward castes. Laloo Yadav argued that both the lower castes 
and the Muslims had one common social enemiy the Upper castes 
Hindus and contended that they were represented by the BJP. 
This argument had an impact in the state, and underscored in 
the state during the 1991 elections, when tne BJP failed to make 
much headway, and the Janata Dal continued to be the 
predominant political force in the state. However, a similar situa- 
tion was not witnessed in Uttar Pradesh, the home state of V.P. 
Singh and in the 1991 elections, the results demonstrated the 
tremendous growth of the BJP that led to the formation of the 
first BJP-controlIed government in the state. While it is true*that 
Uttar Pradesh did not have a deep tradition of caste conflict like 
in Bihar, Mulayam Singh Yadav had also erred in his strategy 
of taking a harsh posture on the temple issue and diluting the 
government decision to implement the Mandal Commission 
report. The virulence with which he conducted his harmony 
rallies in the state greatly aided the RSS clan as he (Yadav) 
projected himself as a "symbol who had to be defied if anyone 
wanted to prove his masculinity".^-^’ 

There was also the issue of fractures within the Janata Dal 
and with the disintegration of the party imminent, the moot 
point was the race to carve out permanent social constituencies. 
Since the decision to implement the Mandal Commission report 
was essentially V.P, Singh's, Yadav had little to politically gain 
by publicising the decision. Yadav himself was a member of the 
backward castes and he was confident that the community at 
least the sizable Yadavs would stand by him during any electoral 
test. His next target was clearly the Muslims as his calculation 


312 



was that a combination of Yadav and Muslim votes would enable 
him to have a pivotal position in the state. Thus while Laloo 
Yadav projected himself as a person devoted to ostracising caste- 
based repression from Hindu society and argued that secular 
politics was essentially a part of his broad approacl the Uttar 
Pradesh Chief Minister focused solely on the issue of com- 
munalism. This approach greatly benefited the RSS clan and they 
conceded that Mulayam Singh Yadav had been "one of their 
main allies" for the kar seva programme. 

If 1989 had ended on a high note for V.P. Singh and his new 
party, 1990 had clearly belonged to the BJP and Advani had 
emerged as a colossus in the Indian political theatre. His sup 
porters had clandestinely tried to elect him as the BBC's Man of 
the Year, but when the 'fraud' was discovered, the Corporation 
hastil)' altered its decision. But there was no denying that if there 
had been one man who had orchestrated Indian polity in 1990, 
it was Advani. It had been a silent rise for the 1927 bom man 
from Sindh who did his early education in Karachi before Par- 
tition houndeo him and and his family out from his home town. 
His initiation in the RSS had started while in college and when 
the Jana Sangh was formed, he functioned as the secretary ot the 
Rajasthan unit till 1 957 when he shifted to the capital and was 
trained in the parliamenta. y methods by Atal Behari Vajpayee. 
Even though Advani went on to grow politically, and was even 
the president of the Jana Sangh in the 1970s, he never had the 
charisma of Vajpayee and was not projected by the party as a 
mass leader. Advani was not considered very promising by the 
political adversaries of the BJP after his elevation as party presi- 
dent. 

However, his shrewd marshaling of resources and talent 
during his tenure saw the BJP developing a vice-like grip on 
Indian polity. By the time Advani bowed out of office in February 
1991, he h:‘d overshadowed everyone in his party, including 
Vajpayee. This was evident in the nomination of a trusted ally 
of Advani' s, K. Govindacharya, as party general secretary. 


313 



Govindacharya had been a RSS whole-timer since the 1960s and 
had been deputed to the ABVP when Advani spotted him in 
1988 and "brought him over" as his political secretary. Govin- 
dacharya; an organisational expert, was responsible for several 
of the modem methods of organisational management as also 
astute media management by simply being accessible to jour- 
nalists. His rise in the BJP hierarchy was practically meteoric and 
his eclipsing several veteran leaders was not appreciated by 
several of his colleagues. What also went agateist Govindacharya 
was his forceful style of functioning as opposed to the low key 
methods of others in the party. The personality clashes between 
Govindacharya and other party leaders came to a head in the 
spring of 1992 when attempts were made to link his name with 
Uma Bharti. 

While this was the first scandal with sexual overtones to 
have hit the BJP at the national level, it was indicative of the 
party going through the transitional phase of emerging hrom a 
pure cadre-based organisation to one with a mass character. As 
the organisation grew, the spoils also became visible and fac- 
tionalism reared its head as groups wanted to exclude the 
others from sharing the benefits of power stemming from a 
organisation in a pivotal position. The faction struggle within 
the BJP also underlined that the RSS, through training the cadre 
in a certain political ideology, had not been able to chemge basic 
human traits. However, the RSS stepped in to resolve the dis- 
pute and a temporary tmce was worked out that led to Govin- 
dacharya being dispatched to Madras and asked to limit his 
interactions with the media. Uma Bharti on her own part, first 
threatened to quit politics and after recovering from the trauma 
of a reported abortion, took diksha from her guru to become a 
true ascetic. She however, neither resigned firom the BJP nor 
from Parliament. 

Even as the BJP prepared for the organisational changes and 
drew up strategies to politically consolidate on the gains of the 
kar seva programme, there were far reaching political changes 


314 



in the capital. V.P. Singh submitted his resignation to the Presi* 
dent following the defeat of the vote of confidence. Subsequent 
to fids Rajiv Gandhi was invited as the leader of the Opposition 
to form the government, an offer which the Congress president 
declined arguing that his party did not have a majority. 
Chandrasekhar, the leader of the breakaway faction of the Janata 
Dal was then called to form the government which he accepted 
and the events of 1979 were repeated when the Congress offered 
to support the government from outside. However, the situation 
was more ludicrous than 1979 for Chandrasekhar headed a 
group of barely 60-odd MPs. In the debate in Parliament on 
November 16 during the vote of confidence moved by the new 
government Advani questioned the political legitimacy of the 
new government and even while not using the same words, 
echoed the sentiments he had used barely a week ago when V.P. 
Singh had moved the vote of confidence. The BJP president had 
expressed happiness at the fact that during the debate on the 
motion moved by V.P. Singh, the "focus has been on what is 
secularism, what is communalism and what is nationalism". Ad- 
vaiu further pleaded that the debate should not be confined to 
Parliament and that political parties should "seek the people's 
opinion on these issues and let there be an election on the basis 
of this debate". By the end of 1990, the BJP had succeeded beyond 
any doubt in having broadened the canvas of the Ayodhya dis- 
pute from that of building a Ram temple in place of the Babri 
Masjid, to that of replacing the existing socio-political S 3 ^tem 
with another one. 


Spotlight on the Negotiating Table 

However, it went to the merit of the new government that it did 
not lose initiative on the Ayodhya dispute and even as the VHP 
announced its plans of staging a month-long satyagraha at Ayod- 
hya, the gi'ivemment succeeded in bringing together the leaders 
of the VHP and the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee to 

315 



sit across the table and discuss a way out of the dispute. The two 
warring groups were brought together by Chandrasekhar with 
the help of his allies both in the government and in other parties. 
A crucial role was played by the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra 
and Rajasthan Sharad Pawar of the Congress and Bhairon Singh 
Shekhawat of the BJP, both personal Mends of the Prime Mini- 
ster for long. The two used their political and personal connec- 
tions in the RSS clan to b'*ing the VHP to the negotiating table. 
The task of bringing the Muslim leaders to the meeting was 
detailed to Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Chi?f Minister of Uttar 
Pradesh who had parted wa)^ with V.P. Singh and depended 
on Congress support for the survival of his ministry. Little how- 
ever emerged at this meeting and a government backgrounder 
claims that "though inconclusive, the meeting decided to con- 
tinue the dialogue". 

The government at this meeting was represented by the Union 
Minister of State for Home Affairs, Subodh Kant Sahay, who had 
also played a crucial role in V.P. Singh's ministry and had 
defected to the rebel group. The government position was made 
clear: It was not playing a partisan role but its status was of a 
neutral arbitrator that was brin^g the warring groups to dis- 
cuss the issue and find a way out. The govemmient ploy was 
simple: The warring groups should consider the other group as 
the 'haco symbol' and not the government. The political situation 
in India also gave the new government little option as it could 
not have afforded another round of confrontation with either of 
the two groups and the reasoning was that the government 
would get a "breathing space if the groups quibbled with each 
other". The government managed to schedule another meeting 
on December 4, two days before the start of the satyagraha 
programme at Ayodhya. 

A significant decision emerged at this meeting. The govern- 
ment suggested to the two groups that they should submit 
detailed documents in support of their claim to the disputed 
shrine. The suggestion was accepted and the VHP and the Muslim 


316 



leaders agreed to submit documents to the goverrjnent which 
would be exchanged by the government. Even though this was not 
the first time that the government had initiated a move to enable 
both sides to present their case'the VHP had submitted documents 
to Buta Singh in 1988 but the initiative was significant as it gave a 
reprieve to the government on the Ayodh> a front. It did not have 
to contend with the RSS clan determined to precipitate matters in 
Ayodhya. However, it has also to be kept in mind that the period 
after the kar seva programme was utilised by the BJP to con- 
solidate on the gains of the past monlhs and to make some impor- 
tant organisational changes. 

The documents were submitted by the two groups and the 
government handed over the papers of the VHP to the Muslim 
leaders and vice versa. A third meeting was scheduled for 
January 10 and it was decided that the documents could be 
categorised into four groups: Historical; archaeological; legal and 
revenue. The meeting also "resolved that these documents be 
jammed by experts on the subject". The two groups were asked 
by the government to submit the list of experts who would 
represent them at another scheduled meeting on January 24. It 
had been two months since the government headed by 
Chandrasekhar had assumed office and there had been relative 
tranquillity on the Ayodhya difpule. There were views that the 
government had nr..^de the right move, but the fact is that the 
negotiations suited every political group. There was also no pos- 
sibility of a compromise emerging as at every meeting, »he two 
sides reiterated their known positions and indicated that they 
would not budge from it. This was particularly true of the VHP 
who declared that it would make no attempt to prove that 
modem Ayodhya was the actual birth place of Ram. Ashok 
Singhal declared that "such It^sues can not be proved and we do 
not feel the need for it as it is a matter of faith for the majority 
in this country". 

However, if the government had succeeded in preventing 
another itiimediate confrontation at Ayodhya, it had failed in 


317 



seizing the political initiative from the RSS clan. The VHP staged 
the satyagraha programme at Ayodhya from December 6 and it 
continued till January 14 and several thousand VHP activists and 
religious leaders courted arrest when they were prevented from 
marching in a group to the Babii Masjid. The programme kept 
alive the Ram temple issue and gave an opportunity to the neo- 
converts to feel that they had contributed to the agitation. How- 
ever, the most ambitious programme was launched by the BJP 
in the first week of December when nearly two dozen senior BJP 
leaders fanned out in the country to address public gatherings 
and stage demonstrations. They were to be accompanied by the 
local leaders and the aim was to take the "message from Ayod- 
hya to the people". 

In what was a virtual launch of an elections campaign, more 
than 300 districts were to be covered by the leaders. The cam- 
paign was the most extensive ever planned by the BJP and it 
envisaged the leaders spending a total number of 195 man days 
on tour by the leaders. The routes of all the leaders were prepared 
by a small group of party managers in the capital and it was 
decided that Advani would tour those areas not covered by his 
Rath Yatra. The programme was a resounding success with 
people flocking to the venue of the gatherings to listen to the BJP 
leaders. Intelligence reports noted the positive response of the 
people towards the BJP and it was also apparent that the BJP 
was getting support not just for the Ram temple dispute, but 
also for its view that the Ayodhya agitation was primarily a part 
of a bigger struggle against the "forces of pseudo-secularism". 

Even as the process of negotiations started, the VHP made a 
significant departure from its contention that an ancient Ram 
temple had been destroyed by Babur to build the mosque. This 
was in addition to the argument of the VHP that the onus of 
proving the place at the birthplace did not wrest with them, the 
VHP leaders also changed tack on the concept of the period when 
the Ram temple was built. While earlier, it was argued that the 
temple had been built during the reign of the dynasty of the 


318 



Vikramadityas between the third and eight centuries A.D., it was 
now contended that the temple had been an eleventh century 
temple. The process of negotiations were also marred by the 
virulent attack by the VHP and scholars owing allegiance to it, 
on the ^Marxist historians". Just as the RSS clan had argued that 
the Nehruvian model was largely responsible for all the socio- 
political ills of India. It was now contended that "distortions in 
the understanding of Indian history has crept in because the 
Marxist historians have applied western tools". 

What precipitated matters further was the fact that several 
leading historians from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in the 
capital released a historical pamphlet entitled 'Political Abuse of 
Histor/ in which it was contended that Babur had not 
demolished a temple to build mosque, and also that there was 
no evidence to link Ram with contemporary Ayodhya. These 
historians were requested by the Muslim leadership to represent 
them in the negotiations, an offered which was declined and the 
argument was the issue had become too politicised. While the 
Muslim leadership succeeded in goading another set of liberal 
historians in participating in the talks as neutral experts, it was 
evident that the academic exercise of the historians from JNU 
had come a bit too late in the day as the argument sounded 
convincing only tc those who already believed in the contention. 
Had the academic exercise come earlier, it might have gone a 
long way in taking the wind out of the sails of the VHP campaign, 
but that unfortunately did not happen. 

By the time 1990 drew to a close almost all institutions in India 
were taking sides in the raging dispute. This was most evident 
in the media coverage on the kar seva programme when the 
vernacular press of Uttai Pradesh, particularly came uiider 
scrutiny for falsifying facts and aiding the spread of the argu- 
ments of the VHP. The Press Council of India took up the charges 
of biased reporting during the kar seva programme and con- 
cluded that there were evidences of sections of the media playing 
a partisan role by misreporting incidents and exaggerating the 


319 



number of VHP activists killed in police firing. The RSS clan had 
succeeded in polarising not just politics into a 'us versus them' 
situation, but also other institutions in India, including the 
media. This greatly helped the BJP in the coming months espe> 
dally during the 1991 elections when the the BJP increased its 
strength in Parliament and emerged as the main opposition 
party. 

Even before the academics holding divergent views on the 
Ayodhya dispute met in the capital on January 24, it was clear 
that there was little hope of a negotiated settlement as the RSS 
clan had embarked on a multi-pronged campaign drive which 
among things entailed staging a massive rally in the capital 
where all religious leaders associated with the Ayodhya cam- 
paign would declare "war on the government" if it did not 
facilitate the building of the Ram temple. A government paper 
recorded that at the January 24 meeting there were "disagree- 
ments on many points". Prior to this meeting, the VHP had also 
declared that the "dialogue is confined to scholarly pursuits, 
is not a judicial dialogue. None of these documents is meant for 
any judicial or semi-judicial process in any court of law or any 
committee...since we have all along fhaintained that no court of 
law can ever hope to decide the Ram Janmabhoomi issue" . How- 
ever, the talks threatening to break off, the government suc- 
ceeded in scheduling another meeting for February 6 and the 
gover^ent also pledged to the two groups that it would com- 
pare the documents with the originals and attest the authenticity 
of the papers. The next meeting between the experts was more 
acrimonious and even though the government was formally 
asked to speed up the process of authentication, there were in- 
dications that the process of negotiations were coming to a 
naught. Political developments leading to the dissolution of the 
Lok Sabha and the announcement of elections overtook the 
process of negotiations even before the process of authentication 
could be completed. After the new> government assumed office 
in June 1991, the move was practically abandoned. 


320 



The BJP however, fresh from the success of its month long 
campaign drive, held its plenary session at Jaipur where the main 
item on its agenda was the formal 'election' of a new party 
presidait. Murli Manohar Joshi's name had already been 
"cleared" by religious leaders associated with the Ayodhya 
agitation and other affiliates of the RSS. In his last speech as party 
president, Advani highlighted the two biggest achievements of 
the BJP during his tenure. The first was that the BJP was "no 
longer a peripheral party;" and the second was that the party 
was "no longer reacting to issues raised by the ruling party," but 
was "setting the agenda of the political debate". The BJP leader 
elaborated his contention and rightly claimed that the BJP had 
"come to occupy centre-stage in national politics". There was a 
realisation in the party that it occupied the pivotal position, but 
the main problem was that the BJP was still seen as a single issue 
party. To alter this image, one of the first decisions of the BJP 
after the change of guard was to give a popular economic edge 
to its campaign plank. A new slogan Ram and Rod was thrown 
up and it was argued that both were equally important for the 
complete upliftment of Indians. 

However, the economic resolution adopted by the national 
council at Jaipur failed to present any new analysis and the BJP 
continued with its traditional opposition to planned economy. 
Besides adding a new slogan to its repertoire, the BJP also tried 
to broadened its concern by announcing other actions plans. The 
second fortnight of May was to be observed as the 'Farmers 
Fortnight' during which period the party would "highlight the 
problems of farmers and seek redressal for their grievances". The 
BJP also decided to observe ;he death anniversary of Bhagat 
Singh the radical freedom fighter who had been sen^ced to 
death by the colonial rulers. Starting from March 23 the martyr- 
dom day of Singh the BJP planned to stage rallies and public 
meetings in <\e state of Punjab to "enlighten the broad masses 
on the seriousness of the Punjab situation". The BJP also decided 
to take up the issue of the Kashmir problem in a big way and 


321 



declared that its leaders would lead a inarch to Srinagar where 
the Indian tricolour would be hoisted by Joshi on June 23, the 
death anniversary of Syama Prasad Mookerjee. An analysis of 
the issues that the BJP sought to take up in February 1991, sug- 
gests that the party leadership was consciously projecting itself 
as a "patriotic and nationalistic party" which felt that the priority 
areas in the country were the problems of various centrifugal 
forces gaining ground. 

In the four and a half years since the elevation of Advani as 
party president, the BJP had registered manifold growth. Its 
support base had expanded greatly and the party had made 
inroads outside the traditional social groups that rallied behind 
the Jana Sangh and the BJP earlier. The BJP had also been able 
to shed its image of being primarily an Upper-caste party. How- 
ever, this growth had been as a result of the party's direct par- 
ticipation in the Ram temple agitation and skillful conduct of the 
agitation. But, in the process, the party was known for little else 
besides the temple plank and the pressure was clearly on on the 
leadership to broad base its concern for attracting more sup- 
porters into its fold. The BJP leaders by this time had also started 
arguing that the party was a government in waiting and this 
could not be justified if the party continued as a single issue 
party. Issues which had been relegated to the background due 
to the stranglehold of the Ayodhya dispute, were sought to be 
brought to the fore again. 

The decision to highlight the problem of militancy in the states 
of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir were a part of the concerted 
attempt on the part of the BJP to broaden its platform. The 
economic content was also inserted to ward of criticism that the 
BJP had little or no economic programme. However, the political 
events in India following the Congress withdrawing support 
from the government in the first week of March, overtook the 
BJP and all attempts of the BJP to project itself a party with a 
comprehensive programme, proved elusive, and for the second 
time the party was forced to contest the elections primarily on 


322 



the temple plank. All the planned programmes excluding the 
VHP organised rally in the capital^ had to be abandoned, and 
the public gathering underscored that the BJP had few issues to 
highlight in the elections save the Ayodhya dispute. This how> 
ever, had its impact on the party in the long run and even after 
the emergence of the BJP as the main opposition party the party 
failed to widen the base of its programme, after the demolition 
of the Babri Masjid, the party had little chances of immediate 
enlargement of its policy base as it converted the elections for 
the four state assemblies as a 'virtual referendum' on the entire 
gamut of issues it had raised in the course of the Ayodhya 
agitation. 

However, in early 1991, even as negotiations were continuing 
between the VHP and the Muslim leadership, the former em- 
barked on a path to further broaden its support base and give a 
direct political shape to the agitation conducted by it. Shortly after 
the end of the satyagraha programme at Ayodhya, religious 
leaders in the VHP fold met at Allahabad during the kumbh mela 
and announced that it would organise a public rally in the capital 
on April 4 to press for the right to start temple construction. The 
rally was planned on a massive scale and even the smallest of VHP 
units in the rural and urban centres were instructed to ensure max- 
imum participation from the area. The rally was to be preceded by 
a meeting of the Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal and a two-day 
Dharam Sansad. When the programme was announced, it was es- 
sentially a tactic to keep the organisational network of the VHP ac- 
tive and ensure that the cadre did not fritter away since there was a 
lull on the Rmn temple front. The BJP also pledged to make the 
rally a success by declaring during its plenary session that its cadre 
was being instructed to participate in the VHP programme. The 
programme was billed as a show of strength to demonstrate to the 
adversaries of the RSS clan that the affiliates could mobilise a large 
number of people even outside Ayodhya. However, the political 
develop!'; ents transformed dramatically after the Congress 
declared that it was withdrawing support from the government. 


323 



The Lok Sabha was dissolved and elections were imminent. The 
April 4 public meeting and the related meeting of the VHP af- 
filiates thus were transformed into a "launchingpad" fortheBJPto 
start its campaign for the elections. 

Preparing For Elections 

The VHP and the BJP started working as a well oiled machinery 
and drew up extensive plans for the rally. The VHP was 
entrusted with the organisational aspects of the programme and 
the BJP was given the responsibility of attracting the crowds to 
the meeting. The VHP appealed to its traditional supporters the 
traders to down their shutters on the day of the rally and con- 
verge on the lawns of the Boat Club in the capital. The organisa- 
tion announced the formation of 18 sub-committees to manage 
various aspects of the programme, ranging from transport, 
boarding, lodging to decoration. The sub-committee in charge 
of decoration declared that it would erect the biggest stage ever 
„to have come up at the venue of the rally. The big stage would 
have place for close to one hundred leaders from various RSS 
affiliates to sit on and it would be d^orated with motifs of Ram, 
other religious symbols and the elections symbol of the BJP, the 
lotus. The VHP announced that it was aiming to mobilise two 
million people for the rally but would be happy if "even one 
fourth of the target" converged in Delhi on April 14. On March 
19, more than ten days after the Congress had withdrawn sup- 
port to the government and the President had asked 
Chandrasekhar to continue as care taken prime minister, the BJP 
made it obvious that the party was viewing the April 4 meeting 
as its first elections rally when it was announced that senior party 
leaders would tour India extensively in the fortnight before the 
meeting to motivate people to come to Delhi. 

The leaders were to fan out in various parts of the country by 
the third week of March and would arrive in Delhi on the day 
of the rally accompanied by bands of supporters. Advani was to 

324 



first head for Calcutta and then hit the dusty trail in Bihar and 
Uttar Pradesh. Vajpayee was to tour the areas of Bihar and Uttar 
Pradesh that were not being covered by Advmi. Joshi was to 
first go to Kerala and after that to Bombay and drive through 
Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Sikandar Bhakt, one of the 
few Muslims in the BJP leadership was to tour the states of 
Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Haryana, while other junior leaders were 
to tour other areas not covered by the senior leaders. It was 
obvious that though the ostensible reason for staging the rally 
was to demand the right to start temple construction at Ayodhya, 
the real reason in the changed political circumstances was to give 
the BJP a headstart over other political parties. Even though the 
dates of the elections had not been announced, the BJP was 
sensing a greater role for itself in Parliament and it was felt that 
by identifying itself with the religious identity of the Hindus, the 
BJP would be benefited. No eyebrows were raised in the party 
when it was announced that senior party leaders would share 
the platform with religious leaders. The strategy was obvious: 
Secure religious sanctity by rubbing shoulders with the 
shankaracharyas and other religious leaders. The VHP had been 
entrusted with the job of ensuring that none of the assertions of 
the clergy went against the programmes of the BJP and embar> 
rassed the leade’s. 

However, the apprehensions of the BJP leadership were 
misplaced as when the Dharam Sansad took up the resolutions 
to be adopted, they appeared to be a virtual endorsement of the 
BJP manifesto. In a carefully worded political resolution, the 
thousand odd religious leaders called upon the electorate to ''use 
their vote power prudently and in an organised maimer. The 
resolution argued that the prime reason for the country facing a 
threat from within was because the majority of political parties 
had been wedded to pseudo-secularism and made it their one 
point programme to keep on licking the boots of communal ' 
elements and weakening Hindu society...the national society in 
Bharat." The Sansad further resolved that the Hindus had to be 


325 



determined to elect "devoted, patriotic representatives of good 
character ... keeping clearly in view the political polarisation that 
had come about in the form of Ram Bhakts and Ram Drohis". 
The resolution, after the initial arguments detailed a 16 point list 
and instructed the Hindu voters to vote only for the political 
party that promised to fulfill the demands of the Sansad. 

There however, was little difference between the list released 
by the Sansad and the BJP programme as it talked about a 
Uniform Civil Code, abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitu- 
tion, to prevent illegal infiltration from Bangladesh,and of course 
the handing over of the of the three shrines at Ayodhya, Mathura 
and Varanasi to the Hindus. In a separate resolution, the Sansad 
also congratulated the BJP for the "active support extended for 
the reconstruction of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi temple". By 
the time the April 4 programme commenced shortly after noon, 
a senior religious leader lit a lamp, an all encompassing Hindu 
unity had been forged and the BJP was projected as the only 
party capable and committed to protect the political interests of 
the Hindus. Never before had any political party launched its 
elections campaign with such categorical religious overtones. 
Speaker after speaker at the rally sp(^e about the need to forge 
and maintain Hindu unity and how this could be best articulated 
by the BJP. The issue of building the Ram temple, though not 
singled out, was however central as the religious leaders coined 
a new slogan ]o Hamare Ram Ka Naheen, Woh Hamarc Kaam Ka 
Naheen (He who does not belong to Ram is of little use to us). 

The BJP's elections campaign had been launched and 
thousands came to the capital to attend the rally. While the target 
of 2 million was not met, the rally was one of the biggest ever 
staged in the city and when the participants returned home, they 
carried with them the message of the revered religious leaders that 
Hindu society was imperiled and this could be halted only if the 
people turned out in large numbers and voted for the BJP. The BJP 
had definitely secured a headstart and throughout the election 
campaign, it clung on to this lead by efficient organisational 


326 



management and as the results demonstrated, the party g;reatly 
benefited when it bagged 119 Lok Sabha constituencies and 
emerged as the second largestparty giving it the status of the main 
opposition party and Advani the Si^ ^ us of a cabinet minister by 
virtue of his being the leader of the Opposition. 

Similar to the situation in the aftermath of the shilanyas 
ceremony in 1989, there was little talk of building the Ram temple 
after the successful rally on April 4. The emphasis of the entire 
RSS clan was in ensuring the victory of the maximum number 
of BJP candidates. Elections were announced for May, and the 
BIP began their selection of candidates, well in advance of other 
political parties. A new feature this time was the decision of a 
number of retired civil servants and senior army officers to join 
the BJP. Heading the list was T.N. Chaturvedi, who had a con- 
troversial run as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India 
during the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi for his special role in ques- 
tioning several aspects of controversial defense deals. There were 
others also like Brijesh Mishra, the former Indian Ambassador 
to the United Nations, Lieutenant General C.P. Candeth. Several 
former Congress leaders also joined the BJP as did noted film 
stars Victor Baneijee, Deepika Chikhaliah and Arvind Trivedi 
who had played the roles of Sita and Ravan in the television 
serial 'The Ramayan'. Among the new entrants to the BJP was 
also former Chambal valley dacoit Tehsildar Singh. The new 
entrants were largely instrumental in bolstering the prospects of 
the party as it was seen as the emerging political force towards 
whom diverse people were flocking to. 

The BJP fielded candidates in all states in an attempt to project 
itself as an all India party whose support base was not restricted to 
the northern and western sta'**->'. Barring Maharashtra, where the 
BJPcontinued with its alliance with the Shiv Sena, the party did not 
forge any electoral alliance with other political parties. A con- 
certed bid was made by the BJP to make inroads in the southern 
states, espt.< ially the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The 
1991 elections were the first that the BJP was contesting without 


327 



any understanding tvith a national party, and the leadership was 
conscious that the results would havegreatimpacton theclaimsof 
the party that it was a govemment-in-waiting. However, there 
were marginal contradictions between the RSS and the BJP over 
the basic aim during the elections. For the RSS, the main concern 
was to ensure the political eclipse of the Janata Dal led by V.P. 
Singh for the decision to implement the Mandal Commission 
report without adding an economic dimension, was seen by the 
leadership as the main obstacle in the all encompassing Hindu 
solidarity. 

However, for the BJP while the defeat of V.P. Singh was 
certainly a desired goal, the party was more keen on improving 
its strength in the Lok Sabha. There were reports that the RSS 
leadership would undertake a review of the election process 
shortly before polling date and in constituencies witnessing a 
triangular contest, the RSS would consider transferring the votes 
of its cadre to even the non-BJP candidates if they were in a 
pivotal position to defeat the Janata Dal candidate. Th^ RSS 
leadership argued that the anti-Mandal Commission votes could 
not be allowed to get divided as this would benefit the JD and 
in the long run prevent Hindu consolidation. There were also 
contradictions within the BJP over the nomination of several 
neo-converts to contest the elections from several constituencies. 
A number of traditional leaders of the party felt that this would 
dilute the ideological content of the BJP. 

However, the criticism was warded off by the section of 
leadership in favour of the BJP opening its doors, by contending 
that it was a tactical move to ensure charismatic candidates. The 
BJP also fielded a number of candidates who came to be known 
as the party's saffron brigade. They included several religious 
leaders associated with the Ayodhya agitation and some other 
leaders who had been drawn from the VHP fold. These new 
entrants to the BJP included Mahant Avaidyanath who defected 
to the BJP from the Hindu Mahasabha, Swami Chinmayanand, 
S.C. Dixit, the retired Director General of Uttar Pradesh police, 

328 



and Vinay Katiyar, the president of Bajrang Dal who was given 
the challenging task of wresting the Faizabad constituencies from 
the communists. Uma Bharti who was also a member of the 
saffron brigade, was again put up from her old constituency, but 
she had problems in the initial part of the campaign and the 
alienation between her and the party cadre was sorted out only 
after Govindacharya visited the constituency and settled things. 
By the time the campaign had entered the decisive phase it was 
more or less certain that the electorate would again not give any 
party a majority and that phase of minority governments would 
continue. 

There was also an alI>round consensus that the BJP would in> 
crease its strength and also widen its support base in regional 
terms. Even though the BJP did not emerge as the largest party in 
the Lok Sabha when the results were declared, the 1991 elections 
were the second general elections where the main political agenda 
was set by the BJP. The main success of the BJP was that it had dic- 
tated the parameters of the debate during the campaign period 
greatly succeeded in ideologically isolating itself frx)m other politi- 
cal parties, and even though all non-BJP parties did not form a 
united platform, it was clear that the process of political realign- 
ment had been initiated in India. It was also evident that in the 
coming years, the BJP would emerge as single pole in a bi-polar 
polity with the other parties forming the other pole. The BJFs posi- 
tion was akin to that of the C ongress in its heydays when the Con- 
gress gained the most when the opposition was divided and 
suffered when the other parties closed ranks like in 1 967 and 1977. 

The new position of the BJP was most evident in Uttar 
Pradesh where the BJP secured a majority in the state assembly, 
elections for which were simultaneously held, by polling slightly 
more than 30 per cent of the total votes cast. In the majority of 
constituencies, the elections were four-cornered as the two fac- 
tions of the Janata and the Congress failed to arrive at any 
understar '^ing. This greatly helped the BJP and the trend of the 
BJP emerging ns the principal pole continued with the party 


329 



facing a threat only from a united front against it. A leader of 
the BJP had been asked during the election campaign whether 
the BJP would be the alternative to the Congress. He had replied, 
"we will not be an alternative, but shall be the next Congress".*^* 
The remarked was dismissed as the wise crack of a maverick 
leader, but as the results of the 1991 elections demonstrated, the 
claim was coming true. The results of 1991 could have been better 
from the BJFs viewpoint but for the assassination of Rajiv 
Gandhi half way into the polling. The postponement and res- 
cheduling of polling led to a S 3 mDpathy wave for the Congress 
and had an adverse effect on the prospect of the BJP in several 
constituencies that went to the polls after the assassination. How- 
ever, several commentators contended that the only victor in the 
1991 elections had been the BJP because the Congress though it 
formed the government, had failed to secure a majority on its 
own and depended on the support of its regional allies in the 
initial months before by-electiot\s and political manoeuvres saw 
the party more comfortably placed in Parliament. 

The BJP declared that its victory in the assembly elections in 
Uttar Pradesh was a "mandate to build the Ram temple". To un- 
derline the party's assessment of th^result Kalyan Singh, the Chief 
Minister designate first went to Ayodhya with party president 
MurU Manohar Joshi to have a darshan of the idols in the Babri Mas- 
jid and after swearing that his govenunent would ensure the con- 
struction of the temple, proceeded to Lucknow to take the oath of 
office by swearing allegiance to the Constitution. While the decla- 
ration was questioned by adversaries of the BJP, the party leader- 
ship was also guided by the realisation that it could no longer 
pursue the path of agitation on Ayodhya as all along the party 
leaders had proclaimed that they did not believe in the constitu- 
tional path. But, the state government was committed to uphold 
the law of the land. There were contradictions galore as Kalyan 
Singh had sworn both by the Constitution as well pledged in 
Ayodhya to construct the temple at all costs. There was also a con- 
tradiction within the BJP especially in Uttar Pradesh as the 


330 



majority of legislators were first-timers and had little knowledge 
and understanding of the process of good governance. However, 
Kalyan Singh a member of the Backward caste selected conscious- 
ly by the leadership to head the government to negate charges of 
the party being an Upper-caste based party was quick to come to 
terms with the process of governance and promised the VHP 
leadership that his government would ''slowly remove all hurdles 
in the way of the Ram temple". However, whenever the Union 
government quizzed his decisions, Singh declared that he was ac- 
ting within the parameters of law and had taken no unconstitu- 
tional measure. Singh had the support of the entire RSS clan and 
from conducting an agitation astutely, the fraternity was slowly 
emerging as shrewd administrators. 

Changing Priorities 

Following the elections and the installations of the governments 
at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP contended that the 
Ayodhya issue "from being a subject of agitation, had become 
part of the governments' (both the state and Union government) 
democratic responsibility". However, since one of the first tasks 
of the Union government was to "reduce the temperature in 
national politics, the BJP helped more than anyone else" While 
the real fact of the matter was that the BJP leadership in Uttar 
Pradesh needed time to ceme to terms with the fact that it had 
been voted to power, the party maintained a facade that it was 
acting "in the overall national interest" and thus not launching 
a "more aggressive campaign" , The approach of the state govern- 
ment was to keep the Ayodhya agitation on "hold" and contend 
that it was exploring "alternatives besides agitating". 

It was also imperative for the BJP to project itself as a party 
not restricted to a single issue, but a party which had wider 
national >ncems to buttress its claim as a genuine national 
alternative. The state government initiated a series of meetings 
with the Muslim leadership at which the representatives of the 

331 



government argued that the Muslim community should give up 
their claims on the land over which the Babii Masjid stood and 
agree to shift the structure to another place. Though the Muslim 
leadership rejected the suggestion, the Kalyan Singh government 
continued with the talks and tried to enlist the support of mar- 
ginal Shia Muslim leaders who repeatedly issued statements 
rejected by the majority in the community, that the mosque 
should be shifted and the land handed over to the Hindus. 
However, in the months immediately after assuming office, the 
state government did little besides these meetings. The Union 
government too took no initiative and instead embarked on a 
major liberalisation drive on the economic fi^nt to shift the na- 
tional focus from politics to economy which was in sh^bles. 

The national executive of the BJP met for its first session after 
the elections at Thiruvananthapuram in September and unveiled 
its new strategy: Relegate the Ram temple issue to the back- 
ground and project itself as a nationalistic party. Nationalism for 
the BJP had a Hindu basis and it was argued that the Ayodhya 
dispute was not the ''only one affecting the lives of Hindus". At 
the executive meeting, another ambitious programme was an- 
nounced and the party leadership hoped that it would serve the 
dual purpose of relegating the Ram temple dispute to the back- 
ground and cementing the BJP's image as a Hindu nationalistic 
party. The programme was called Ekta Yatra and it entailed 
party president Murli Manohar Joshi travelling in a speciaUy 
designed Light Commercial Vehicle from Kanya Kumari, the 
southern-most point in India to Srinagar in Kashmir where he 
was to hoist the Indian tricolour on January 26, the Republic Day. 
Similar to the Rath Yatra undertaken by Advani in 1990, the Ekta 
Yatra that was started on December 10, was to provide an op- 
portunity to the BJP to canvass support for its notion of nation- 
hood as also elevate the status of Joshi who did not have a 
national following. 

From the time militancy had emerged as a recurring factor in 
the Kashmir Valley, the Indian tricolour had become an object 


332 



of hatred in the region and following the diktats of the militants, 
the flag could not be hoisted by government officials on 
ceremonial occasions. The BJFs calculation was that the govern- 
ment, fearing offensive from the militants, would not allow the 
cavalcade following Joshi's 'rath' into the Valley and detain the 
BJP leaders. This would enhance the party's nationalistic image 
as the argument following the government halting the Ekta Yatra 
would be simple: 'We wanted to go to Kashmir just to hoist the 
national flag but this government instead of fighting militancy, 
penalises us for exercising the fundamental right of every 
Indian'. The political adversaries of the BJP were in a spot in the 
immediate aftermath of the announcement of the Ekta Yatra. 
There were demands that the Yatra be banned, but sensing the 
benefit to the BJP from this demand, the Prime Minister refused 
to act. 

Religious motifs were again part of the Ekta Yatra and when 
the cavalcade started rolling from Kanya Kumari, Joshi's Rath 
he travelled in a white LCV while another designed like a south 
Indian temple followed as a standby carried urns containing 
water from river considered holy by the Hindus. The Indian 
nation was projected as a deity Bharat Mata (Mother India) and 
the female form was painted on the Rath. At places where the 
joshi cavalcade stopped, he would address gatherings and ask 
people to offer prayers to the deity the idol was installed inside 
the LCV in a makeshift temple like structure. In his speeches, 
Joshi projected himself as a dutiful son who had hit the dusty 
trails to "regain for the mother what was hers". Joshi played his 
role as a Hindu nationalLct to perfection as all his speeches were 
laced with religious images and he argued that the prime prob- 
lem in Kashmir was its Muslim majority populace that had not 
adopted to the ways of India meaning Hindus even after acces- 
sion to India. Joshi argued in favour of use of brute state power 
and changing the demographic character of the state to combat 
militancy. 

While the use of religious motifs found increasing support 


333 



during the Ekta Yatra, the BJP also gave an opportunity to the 
youth who had lent muscle power to the Ayodhya agitation. A 
special group called kesariya vahini (saffron army) was raised to 
accompany Joshi in his march to Kashmir. While a small band 
of this 'arm/ accompanied Joshi from the beginning, several 
thousands of them were to join the cavalcade from Delhi through 
militancy afflicted Punjab and Kashmir on their way to Srinagar. 
The youth were enlisted in this army after signing a specially 
prepared pledge forms in which it was declared that the person 
was willing to "sacrifice everything" for the cause of Mother 
India. The vahini was raised as a force that would march to the 
Valley to assert the cultural hegemony of Hindus over the region. 
When the Ekta Yatra started its 15,000-km-long journey from 
Kanya Kumari, the RSS clan considered the programme a "real 
winner" as the understanding was that the government would 
be forced to halt the Yatra and detain Joshi. In the initial phase 
of the Yatra there was little hype fi:om the party unlike Advani's 
Rath Yatra, and Joshi's second in command, Narendra Modi 
declared that while the first had been a "war-time manoeuvre," 
Joshi's Yatra was a "peace-time exercise". In this phase which 
continued till the time the Yatra reached Delhi, the emphasis was 
not on generating frenzy, but to utilise the occasion to spread 
the BJP's notion of nationhood and the political adversaries of 
the RSS clan discovered to their discomfort that people were 
turning out in large numbers to listen to Joshi and going back 
convinced that there was some substance in the BJP's arguments. 

However, the Ekta Yatra ended in a virtual fiasco primarily 
stemming from Joshi's over-ambitious drive and P.V. Narasimha 
Rao's effective strategy of refusing to take punitive action against 
the BJP leader and others following him. By the time the Yatra 
reached Delhi, the pressure was mounting on the Union govern- 
ment to halt the Yatra. Primarily at Joshi's insistence, the BJP 
refused to abandon the programme even though the government 
cited the problem of providing security to a large number of 
people accompanying Joshi. While the Yatra was in Punjab, 


334 



militants opened fire at a band of kesariya vahini members en 
route to join Joshi and this further buttressed the government 
contention, that it was virtually impossible to provide security 
cover to the marchers. By the time the Yatra reached Jammu, 
several thousand members of the kesariya vahini were prepared 
to march to the Valley. However, the government was in no 
mood to oblige the BJP by ordering the arrest of its activists. 
Rather, the government offered to fly Joshi to Srinagar and escort 
him to Lai Chowk, the main square in the town, providing 
security cover while he hoisted the flag. Joshi realised that there 
was no other way for him to reach Srinagar as militancy in the 
region had reared its head in retaliation to the BJP campaign that 
among other demands included the call for abrogation of Article 
370 of the Constitution. But, there was a problem in conveying 
the decision to the cadre that was prepared for a battle. 

Finally, Joshi slipped out from the cavalcade and the cadre 
when they learnt of the leader's flight were greatly upset and 
accused him of betraying their cause. The Ekta Yatra ground to 
a halt and Joshi hoisted the flag on January 26 amidst police 
presence even as the sound of guns being fired by militants could 
be heard. Joshi was flown in a specially commi-ssioned govern- 
ment surveillance aircraft and this added to the impression that 
the BJP had compromised with the government. The members 
of the kesariya vahini who had joined up with Joshi returned home 
dejected and were further humiliated when people pointed out 
that their leader had abandoned them. P.V. Narasimha Rao had 
scored his first political victory over the BJP and Joshi had been 
exposed as a politician who had failed to draw the line. Had the 
Ekta Yatra been terminated by the BJP of its own accord and the 
cadre informed of the decision, the impact of the programme 
would have been greater as the party would not have been 
charged of deceit. However, the fiasco of the Ekta Yatra also 
highlighted the nascent factionalism within the BJP as supporters 
of Joshi accused other party leaders of spearheading media 
criticism of Joshi. But, the farcical end of the Ekta Yatra forced 


335 



the BJP to return to the issue it could handle and manage best: 
The Ram temple. 

Even as the BJP was drawing up plans for the Ekta Yatra^ the 
state government of Uttar Pradesh and the VHP made quiet 
moves to construct the temple. The VHP, by use of appeasements 
and threats managed to acquire a sizable number of plots and 
buildings adjoining the Babri Masjid from the earlier owners. 
After the VHP look physical control of these properties, the state 
government acquired 2.77 acres of land in front of the disputed 
shrine in the first week of October 1991 ostensibly to "promote 
tourism and provide amenities to pilgrims". However, the real 
intent was to transfer the acquired land to the VHP Trust to start 
constructing the temple even while the legal dispute over the 
shrine continued. The state government argued that it was 
delinking the question of building the temple from the disputed 
shrine. However, it was a clever ploy to serve the twin purpose 
of appeasing the section of the BJP supporters who were getting 
restive because of inactivity on the temple front, and also to 
present the nation with a fait accompli as once a portion of the 
temple was built the programme could no longer be stopped. 

The calculation was simple: Once construction was started on a 
portion of land outside the disputed shrine, the completion of the 
temple could not be prevented even if the court verdict went in 
favour of the Muslims. Of the 2.77 acres that the state government 
acquired, as much as 2.04 was now in the control of the VHP after it 
succeeded in getting the properties transferred from the original 
owners. However, the acquisition was challenged in the courts 
and both the High Court and the Su preme Court ruled that during 
the pendency of the case, the state government could neither trans- 
fer the land to any parly, nor build any permanent structure on it. 
The Court's ruling upset the plans of the BJP and the VHP, but the 
state government nonetheless started demolishing the buildings 
on the acquired land. While there were a howl of protests at the 
demolitions, the state government contended that the court had 
barred construction but had been silent regarding demolitions. In 


336 



a matter of weeks, the entire area in front of the Babri Masjid which 
once was a graveyard had been levelled. 

Even though the Union government could have stepped in 
the moment the state government started demolishing the build- 
ing on the acquired land, it did not act. The refusal of the govern- 
ment to act was similar to the failure of the earlier governments 
to foresee the plan of the RSS clan and take pre-emptive steps. 
Arjun Singh, a senior Minister in the Narasimha Rao government 
felt that the government lost its chance by not acting the moment 
the demolitions started. He said that at that time the BJP and the 
VHP did not have much public support to the demolitions as 
several of them were minor temples. But, for reasons which the 
Minister was unwilling to disclose the government failed to 
react.*-’^ This was also the first time that it became apparent that 
there were two views within the ruling party on how to combat 
the BJP. One group was in favour of strong action, while the 
other advocated primarily by the Prime Minister was in favour 
of continuing the strategy adopted during the Ekta Yatra. 

Meanwhile, the state government made no effort to prevent 
an assembly of VHP activists in Ayodhya for a programme on 
October 30 to mark the hoisting of saffron flags over the Babri 
Masjid a year earlier. The programme was called shnurya divas 
(Valor Day) and a i^ ligious ritual was scheduled in memory of 
the kar sevaks who had died in the clash with the police. The 
programme was marked by the altitude of the state police, who 
made no attempt to stop the VHP activists from entering the 
Babri Masjid and after hoisting saffron flags on top of the domes, 
damaged a portion of the outer wall of the shrine complex. This 
led to a furore and a scheduled meeting of the National Integra- 
tion Council was stormy as it was attended by the BJP after it 
initially threatened to stay away. The meeting was an ad- 
ministrative success for the Union government as the Uttar 
Pradesh Chief Minister pledged to protect the disputed structure 
till a final solution was found for the dispute. Kalyan Singh also 
committed his government to obey the orders of the High Court. 


337 



However, it was clear that while the political adversaries were 
buoyant at forcing the BJP to affirm by the Constitution, for the 
party leadership, it was mere lip service w^n* they supported 
the resolution adopted at tht meeting. 

The BJP did not oppose the NIC resolution, but the state 
government continued the actions that dramatically altered the 
situation in Ayodhya. A Union government paper has detailed 
the conduct of the state government in this period and recorded 
that "certain security measures were progressively dismantled". 
The state government also started building a brick wall cordon- 
ing off the land that was acquired by the government. However, 
"the alignment of the wall was quite different from the alignment 
recommended (by a team of Central experts)".’-^ The true intent 
of the state government was also evident in its decision to hand 
over 42.09 acres of land in the vicinity of the disputed complex 
to the VHP Trust to implement a long standing project of design- 
ing and building a Ram Katha Park. The state government also 
allowed the VHP to perform bhunii pujan for another tenTple, 
called Sheshavtar Lakshman temple inside the acquired land. 
Throughout the first half of 1992^ the state government made 
steady progress towards slowly handing over the disputed 
shrine and the land around it to the VHP. 

However, the Union government though aware of the 
developments, took no measure to thwart the plans. .Around this 
time, the Prime Minister's strategy started surfacing; Narasimha 
Rao wanted to try, like V.P. Singh had attempted, to split the 
ranks of the temple supporters by creating schisms within the 
VHP and the religious leaders. Rao and his officials were of the 
considered view that while the VHP had a strong case, the VHP 
and other affiliates of the RSS could not be allowed to get political 
credit for overseeing the temple construction. In his meetings 
with the religious leaders, the Prime Minister argued that the 
VPiP should not be allowed to build the temple and instead, the 
religious leaders should find other non-political alternatives. 
However, like V.P. Singh, Rao also failed and as subsequent 


338 



events underlined, his inaction in the first half of 1992 only 
benefited the RSS clan. This was also the period when Rao's 'soft 
Hindutva' approach became apparent and this was met with 
opposition in the ruling party. The apparent bonhomie between 
Rao and Advani also came to the fore and on occasions it ap- 
peared that the prime Minister was working in tandem with the 
RSS clan on the Ram temple issue. Several commentators argued 
that while the Ayodhya dispute could be settled in favour of the 
Hindus, the credit should not go to the BJP or other RSS affiliates. 
This could be done only if the Congress 'saffronised' itself mar- 
ginally. 

By May 1992, the state government had completed most of the 
groundwork in Ayodhya and the stage was set for another round 
of escalation of tension in the temple-town. The ball was set rolling 
again at the Kumbh Mela, this time in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, 
where religious leaders associated with the VHP met and an- 
nounced that kar seva would be resumed from July 9. This was 
conveyed to the Prime Minister on May 8 when a delegation of the 
religious leaders met him to inform of the decision. The BJP con- 
tended that Rao was silent for the greater part of the meeting and 
pleaded with the religious leaders to keep politics away from the 
issue as "dharmic (religious) matters should be resolved in dharwic 
ways" . ' T he religious leaders agreed and asked Rao to restart the 
process of negotiations initiated by Chandrasekhar. However, the 
government did little in the two months before kar seva started in 
Ayodhya and the issue became tricky as theprogtamme was viola- 
tive of the High Court order. Work started on the portion of ac- 
quired land in front of the Babri Masjid that had been earlier 
levelled by the state government. 

The VHP activists started building a three-tiered platform and 
contended that the platform though made with concrete, was 
not a permanent structure. The kar seva programme continued 
for 18 days with the Union government taking no administrative 
step to prevent the construction work. The state government 
provided all possible help to the VHP and for more than a 


339 



fortnight, nights merged into day in the temple-town as 
thousands of kar sevaks would lie huddled together in the mas- 
sive tents that were erected in the acquired land. Concrete mixers 
continued to churn throughout and the platform steadily started 
rising in height. Loud speakers blared devotional songs rendered 
to the tune of various popular Hindi film songs. After the Union 
government's strategy of judicially preventing any further con- 
struction failed, Rao, met with religious leaders on July 23 and 
succeeded in securing a breather. The programme was stopped 
on July 26 and the Prime Minister declared that the process of 
negotiations was being restarted. 

A significant achievement of the Prime Minister in this period 
was his ability to bring the fissures within the RSS clan to the fore. 
It was becoming increasingly evident that various groups were in 
favour of different strategies on the Ayodhya issue. There were 
sharp differences between the VHP and a section of the religious 
leaders also on the method to be followed. While a section that 
came to beknown as the hard-liners, wanted to precipitate matters 
immediately and continue with the construction programme, 
others wanted to continue with the strategy of the Uttar Pradesh 
government of slowly inching towards the disputed shrine 
without providing the Union g *vernment any immediate 
provocation to dismiss the state government. However, too much 
was read into these fissures as they were purely over tactical mat- 
ters. There were no differences on the two real issues; A Ram 
temple must be built in place of the Babri Masjid; and the political 
credit should go to the BJP and other RSS affiliates. 

Even though the government succeeded in halting construc- 
tion work, Muslims in several parts of the country started doubt- 
ing the ability and the commitment of the government to protect 
the Babri Masjid. In an attempt to secure the support of the 
Muslims in north India, Arjun Singh started touring these areas 
and found support for his demand to adopt a harder stance 
towards the BJP and other RSS affiliates. Muslims who had 
moved away from the Congress fold realised that the division 


340 



of anti-BJP votes in the 1991 elections had not benefited the 
community and in several parts of north-India, politics was fast 
moving towards a sharp polarisation between the BJP and other 
political forces. This was predictably viewed with satisfaction by 
the BJP as it was in tune with its understanding that the party 
would first prefer to 'bask in splendid isolation before the final 
assault on power'. 

Back to Square One 

The BJP contended that the "moment the kar seva pressure 
eased, things were back to their frozen state".’-^ However, the 
Union government's position is at variance and it claimed that 
a series of steps were taken immediately after the suspension of 
the kar seva programme. A Union government paper records its 
actions thus: "The Prime Minister held a series of wide-ranging 
consultations with the parties concerned in order to ascertain 
their views. In addition, the Prime Minister met religious leaders, 
persons from the media, representatives of political groups, 
eminent persons, and others. Specific points that arose in these 
consultations were followed up for authentication, analysis and 
comments by the Av'odhya cell (the formation of the special cell 
headed by a senior retired bureaucrat v’ith mandate to work 
directly through the Prime Minister's office was announced by 
the Prime Minister a day aiter the suspension of kar seva)".^^^ 
While there is little truth in the BJP claim that the government 
took no initiative to settle the dispute, government papers relat- 
ing to its action reveal that there was no sense of urgency as it 
was only by the end of September that the "stage had been 
reached where the process of formal negotiations between the 
representative of the VHP and the AIBMAC could be meaning- 
fully resumed". 

There were two factors behind the lack of urgency on the part 
of the government. Ever since the government embarked on the 
path of economic liberalisation in July 1991, the Ram temple issue 

341 



had been relegated to the background and the economy was the 
main national issue. The second factor was the spectacle of the 
RSS clan beset with its own problems. Ever since the government 
had embarked on the path of economic liberalisation and dis- 
mantling the Nehruvian model of development and planning, 
the BJP and other RSS affiliates were caught in a piquant situa- 
tion because, as a senior BJP leader confessed, the Congress had 
started implementing the BJP election manifesto.’’* Throughout 
1991 and the early part of 1992, the BJP was engaged in evolving 
a cogent economic policy which without opposing economic 
liberalisation, would be markedly different from that of the 
ruling party. Initial efforts had failed and senior leaders of the 
RSS clan often projected contrasting views on issues ranging 
from the entry of foreign capital to the Dunkel Draft on trade 
agreement. 

The RSS clan was also witnessing personality clashes between 
various leaders and differences in perception over the tone 
adopted on the Ayodhya issue. The personality clash had segn 
the shunting of party general secretary Govindacharya to 
Madras. There was little policy difference between Govin- 
dacharya and the rest of the party i&adership the main grouse 
against Govindacharya being his rapid rise in the party, his 
unorthodox methods of working, and scant regard for hierarchy. 
The clash was acrimonious and allegations were hurled against 
Govindacharya, including an occasion when a senior office- 
bearer of the party accused Govindacharya of being in league 
with the Intelligence Bureau and also accused him of instigating 
press reports that insinuated charges against other party 
leaders.”^ 

Finally 'big brother' from Nagpur had to step in to resolve 
the dispute and a temporary truce was worked out in May 1992 
during the executive meeting in Gandhinagar in the state of 
Gujeuat. Advani had maintained a low profile in this clash and 
this was not to the liking of Govindacharya's supporters who 
felt that Advani should have supported his one-time political 


342 



secretary. However, Advani's supporters felt that by involving 
himself in the controversy, he would reduce his status to that of 
a faction leader. The problem of factionalism in the RSS clan was 
also acutely felt over the Ayodhya issue as VHP leaders led by 
Ashok Singhal wanted an immediate settlement while the Chief 
Minister of Uttar Pradesh and others wanted some more time to 
resolve the issue. The RSS clan also witnessed the hawks on the 
Ayodhya issue finding allies among the conservatives on the 
economic fi*ont and this added to the prevailing chaos within the 
RSS and its affiliates. The RSS clan was speaking in so many 
voices in the first half of 1992 that, India Today, a leading 
magazine, contended that it was no longer a 'joint Hindu family.' 
The government was lulled into complacency on account of these 
developments within the RSS clan and continued with the policy 
of drift like previous governments interspersed with fire-fighting 
exercises when the RSS clan brought matters to a boil. 

The BJP had claimed that the VHP and other RSS affiliates 
were getting exasperated with government inaction and this led 
to Ashok Singhal declaring in the third week of September that 
the religious leaders would meet in the capital for two days from 
30 October to decide on the date for resuming construction. The 
VHP leader declared that while the organisation was "ready to 
cooperate with the g- vernment, it was being made fully ready 
for confrontation". In hindsight, the declaration of Singhal ap- 
pears to have been a strategy of the RSS clan to resolve internal 
problems and regain centre-stage in the Indian political theatre 
by resorting to the use of an issue, that it could manage best 
However, the process of negotiations was started by the govern- 
ment and the two groups were invited to send their repre- 
sentatives to a scheduled meeting on October 3. The meeting 
was chaired by the Union Home Minister and attended by 
Sharad Pawar, Bhedron Singh Shekhawat and Subodh Kant 
Sahay who had played significant roles in bringing the two 
groups to the negotiating table in 1991. A government paper says 
that the meeting was "held in a cordial atmosphere and it was 


343 



resolved...negotiations should be further proceeded 
The second meeting was fbced for October 16 at which the two 
groups were to exchange the submissions. By the time the second 
meeting was held, it was clear that the pattern of 1991 was being 
followed and there was little hope of an 3 rthing positive emerging 
as none of the two groups diluted their stand and retained their 
rigidity on the basic point. However, the government maintained 
that it had to oversee the negotiations till the point of its collapse. 

Even while the farcical round of negotiatioc^ continued, the 
RSS clan opted to precipitate matters and Ashok Singhal and the 
RSS leaders declared that the three-month moratorium that the 
Prime Minister had sought, expired in the last week of October. 
And since the government had failed to resolve the dispute, the 
VHP was free to go ahead with its construction plans. The 
religious leaders assembled in Delhi on October 30 and after 
deliberating for two days announced that the kar seva 
programme would be resumed from December 6. The Union 
government claimed the decision had been taken suddenly wMle 
the BJP argued that there were straws in the wind from the time 
the programme was suspended in .July. The negotiations be- 
tween the VHP and the Muslim leadership collapsed formally 
on November 8 when the Muslim leaders asserted that there was 
little sense in continuing with the charade as the kar seva 
programme was "hanging like the Damocles' sword". A govern- 
ment paper also records the collapse of the talks and details the 
government action at this point by stating that after the collapse 
of negotiations, the government "considered advisable" to "talk 
to each group separately and in an effort to narrow down the 
differences and bring about a congenial atmosphere for further 
negotiations". 

However, neither were the differences narrowed down, nor 
negotiations resumed. But, the government initiated a series of 
frantic manoeuvres ranging from attempting to split the ranks 
of the religious leaders with the VHP to informal discussions 
with leaders in the RSS clan through Union Ministers and other 


344 



emissaries. The strategy adopted was similar to that followed by 
the National Front government. At all meetings, the leaders of 
the RSS clan argued that the government should expedite the 
judicial verdict on the land acquisition case the High Court had 
reserved judgment in the first week of November after hearing 
the arguments of the warring sides. At the meetings, the leaders 
of the BJP, RSS and the VHP contended that the kar seva 
programme could be started on the acquired land leaving the 
disputed shrine intact regardless of the nature of the court ver- 
dict. The BJP argued that even if the judgment of the High Court 
went against the state government and the acquisition was 
quashed, kar seva could legally start as the VHP owned 2.04 
acres of the land and it was free to construct on it. It was a clever 
piece of argument and highlighted the shrewd legal strategy 
employed by the RSS clan from the time the BJP came to power 
in Uttar Pradesh. 

While the situation by mid-November warranted a political 
decision by the government, it sidestepped its constitutional 
duties. Instead of combating the BJP politically the Union 
government dithered from taking action and in the process be- 
came a passive participant in the demolition. The Prime Minister 
had succeeded by the third week of November to politically 
isolate the BJP and other RSS affiliates, but he refused to be 
drawn out of his somnambulist posture. The proximity of the 
Prime Minister with several “enior leaders of the RSS clan lulled 
him into complacency and he believed in their assertions that 
the Supreme Court order would not be violated. The ruling party 
was smug when the state government clarified to the Supreme 
Court that kar seva would consist of singing bhajans and kirtans. 
Supporters of the Prime Minister argued that the government 
had scored a tactical victory by forcing the RSS clan and the state 
to commit itself to protecting the Babri Masjid and preventing 
definite ciir truction activity before the High Court verdict. 

However, the RSS clan had adopted the forked tongue by the 
last week of November. Realising that the political credibility of 


345 



the BJP would be greatly damaged if the kar seva programme 
was either postponed or altered, it adopted the strategy of as- 
suring the government and the courts that it would not violate 
any judicial order, while the party organisation continued to 
mobilise kar sevaks to Ayodhya. Advani was launched on his 
third Yatra and Joshi on his second, to travel through the 
countryside in Uttar Pradesh. While the former launched himself 
h-om Varanasi, the latter used Mathura as his launching pad. In 
one of his speeches, Advani declared that kar seva would be 
performed’ with bricks and shovels and not by merely singing 
devotional songs. 

Emissaries of the Prime Minister who met religious leaders 
camping in Ayodhya were also told that kar seva would be 
genuine and the government also had intelligence reports that 
there were plans to demolish the Babri Masjid. However, the 
government took no cognizance of these assertions and reports, 
but relied on the assurance given by the Uttar Pradesh govern- 
ment. The events preceding the demolition of the Babri Masjid 
underscored the inability of the government to seize initiative 
and highlighted that it could do little besides belatedly react to 
developments. Similarly, the RSS cfan was also exposed as a 
fraternity that had lost control over its supporters. Political logic 
was against the demolition of the Babri Masjid as the BjP had 
little to gain immediately. Narasimha Rao clearly had great faith 
in the ability of the RSS leadership to prevent the immediate 
demolition of the shrine, a trust, that few besides him even in 
the RSS clan shared. 

Losing Control 

The Ayodhya agitation had greatly overgrown its patrons. The 
RSS clan was no longer the only political grouping backing the 
movement. The Shiv Sena, once an ally of the BJP, was tactically 
pursuing an independent course because of "lack of sincerity to 
better the lot of Hindus," and it mobilised its cadre to reach 

346 



Ayodhya and act independent of the the RSS clan. Even among 
the neo-converts to the RSS fold, there were several who were 
more boisterous and saw the Ram temple issue primarily from 
the point of view of demolishing the Babri Masjid to 'wipe out 
the symbol of national shame'. The temple-town was literally 
bursting at its seams and when reports of such a large assembly 
reached Advani, he pleaded with his audience, to go to Ayodhya 
in a phased manner. The VHP on its part formally declared on 
December 5 that kar seva not amounting to construction would 
start the next day and go on till the High Court verdict was 
delivered following which construction would start in real 
earnest. Though the Union government repeatedly traded char- 
ges with the government of Uttar Pradesh over issues like 
stationing of Central security forces, on the eve of the kar seva 
programme, the Union government was confident that the 
programme would be conducted in the manner as promised by 
the stale government and felt no reason to take preventive 
measures. 

December 6, 1992 was the RSS clan's hour of triumph. The Ram 
temple issue patronised by the clan since 1 984 was not only slowly 
inching towards the final goal, but the broader issues that had sur- 
faced during the course of the agitation, had been cemented in the 
political agenda of India. The assault on the political system, 
evolved after Independence, had been successful and the new 
order could not be wished a\ /ay. By skillful machinations, the clan 
had overseen the defeat of the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi, en- 
sured the collapse of the National Front government within eleven 
months of its assuming office, and had planned the BJFs rise as a 
significant pole in Indian p« .lity that would not fade away in the 
near future. In the build-up to the kar seva programme of Decem- 
ber 6, the clan had also succeeded in bringing fissures within the 
ruling party to the fore. The government had been demonstrated 
as weak-k . eed and as one which had little political anticipation. 
Other political parties had been rendered totally ineffective. 
Ayodhya was the central question in the minds of not just Indians, 


347 



but the world over, people with relations social, political, intellec- 
tual, religious, or even oblique, with India, were concerned about 
what would happen in the small township in central India the next 
day. 

It is too early for a distanced historical analysis of the events 
of December 6. There have been reports and photographs of 
some leaders of the RSS clan jumping with joy at seeing the 
domes of the Babri Masjid coming down in a whirl of dust. Other 
reports mention sad, forlorn, dejected, unhappy faces. This day 
was a watershed for India as it was the most significant milestone 
in the biggest mass agitation since the national movement. 
Various possibilities have been projected for the future of the 
Indian nation state, all primarily in the realm of unresolved 
theoretical formulations. However, even as the dust of the col- 
lapsed Babri Masjid settled down in Ayodhya in the evening of 
December 6, it was evident that it was not the end in itself. As 
subsequent developments in India have underscored, the 
demolition continued to play a major role well after the event. 
By all accounts, India would continue to grapple with the prob- 
lem for several years to come... 




CHAPTER 7 


Antimkand 




"Don't you know cheats put on masks of 
dkarma? 

There is still hope. 

Trust in me. 

My sword is not a toy, 

My arrows are not firewood". 

Laxman to Ram, in Ayodhyakand 


T 

JL he demolition of the Babri Masjid acted as a catalyst to 
fundamental change in India. The events of December 6, 1992 
figured at the centre of every political debate in India. It was a 
dominant issue in the election to the assemblies in the four stats;s 
that were ruled by the BJP before the demolition. There were 
indications that it would take a long time to exorcise the events 
from the Indian psyche. At a personal level the change was most 
acute for the family member? of more than 1800^ people, who 
had been killed in the two-month-long communal violence fol- 
lowing the demolition. There were many others who felt an acute 
sense of discomfort at the developments in Ayodhya, and their 
fallout elsewhere. When Muzaffar Ali, a noted Hindi film-maker 
who has immortalised the city of Lucknow in two of his films 
Caman and Umrao faan and had spent a considerable part of his 
youth there, returned to the city on December 26, 1992 after 
spending se' -eral days in his village, it was a return to a "bruised 
and changed city".^ The film-maker traced his evolution through 
several cities while analysing the basic content of his two films 

351 



based on Lucknow. Carmn, for Ali, was his "first Lucknow" and 
was a "documentation of rural and urban society and the 
predicament of the common man". The city of Utnrao Joan was 
"another Lucknow," and was the result of his urge to document 
the travails of a "helpless woman in a callous world". However, 
the city, which helped Ali "giveghazal a human form," was faced 
with a different tragedy after the demolition where "insanity had 
tom asunder its fine sensitive fabric called culture. Seeds of 
insecurity and mistrust have been sown in the people bottled up 
in curfew-ridden mohallahs". Ali's observations of the city where 
he had lived during his formative years were similar to the views 
expressed by several others.^ The film-maker was also talking 
about the decline of a cultural trend, in several towns and cities 
of India which had traditionally witnessed close interaction be- 
tween members of the various religious communities. Referred 
to frequently as the c mposite culture of the country, it meant 
members of one religious community adopting rituals of the 
other community without giving up one's faith. In a wa)^ the 
tradition underlined the spiritual oneness amongst Indians. This 
tradition had come under threat in the course of the Ayodhya 
agitation, as the advocates for tfie Hindutva idea negated the 
concept of the composite culture and asserted that the culture of 
India was predominantly Hindu. In such a situation, vhere the 
majority of Hindus slowly started accepting the world view of 
the RSS clan, returning to the place where one grew up became 
a painful exercise for the likes of Ali. Lucknow as a city was no 
longer the picture of communal bonhomie that the film-maker 
grew up in, which was the reason for his acute discomfort. Luck- 
now was not the only city that became a victim to the changing 
value system. The cultural impact of the Ayodhya agitation is 
also evident in several Islamic shrines in north India, which had 
been frequented by a large number of Hindus till recently. Now, 
with the idea of cultural interaction frowned upon, the nature 
of annual festivals at these shrines, had started changing as Hin- 
dus did not turn up in large numbers, as in the past.^ The change 


352 



is especially difficult to rationalise and come to terms with, for 
those people who grew up with the earlier value systems and 
who do not adhere to the RSS clan's narrow and singular concept 
of culture. 

For a large number of Indians who were less than jubilant at 
the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a bit of India had died on 
December 6, 1992. For Muslims, the experience was particularly 
traumatic not only because of the demolition, but for the impact 
that the development would have on Indian polity. 

A rare first person account by a Muslim journalist in the 
English media, is particularly revealing for both the ringside 
view that he had of the Ayodhya agitation and for the fact that 
he did not share the majority Muslim view, before the demoli- 
tion. A person who, "even two days before the demolition," was 
telling his editor that "December 6 will pass off without any 
damage to the mosque,"® while explaining how he had behaved 
like the proverbial ostrich, he elaborated on how he had always 
maintained that "India shall never become Pakistan". A person, 
who had initially maintained that the Muslims "should make a 
gesture towards Hindus and hand over the structure to them," 
he had to face the ignominy of being detained by the police 
during a communal riot in Allahabad in 1987. This was in spite 
of his protestations ihat he was a |oumalist. Even as he saw the 
Babri Masjid "become full time politics," with the "Sangh 
brotherhood and the BMAC lined up opposite each other," the 
journalist "was convinced that things would improve". The ac- 
count of the journalist is of great importance, because he was 
not representative of the majority Muslim view that the Babri 
Masjid must be restored to the community. However, the 
demolition of the mosque ticinsformed even his viewpoint. 
Though the mosque did not mean anything for him personally 
for the time it existed, the situation changed after December 6, 
1992 and he noted that while watching the "rubble of the once- 
abandoned Babri Masjid on my television, tears began to roll 
down my cheeks. And I realised how a decrepit mosque in 


353 



Ayodhya had become a s 3 rmbol of identity for millions of Mus- 
lims". The journalist was not alone in his view that the MusUms 
had lost something of great symbolic value with the demolition. 
A non-partisan commentator also conceded that the "destruction 
of the Babri Masjid had deeply wounded the religious feelings 
of the Muslim community throughout India".* The journalist's 
account of his sentiment after the demolition of the mosque has 
historical importance also, if only because it served to underline 
that the consciousness of belonging to a particular religious com- 
mtmity, had percolated to the intellectual elite of India also. A 
large number of Muslims in the media, academics, arts and other 
intellectual professions, had pursued their vocation oblivious of 
the fact that they were Muslims, and were thus compelled to 
react differently to contemporary eventb. In many instances they 
had become either agnostics or atheists, and even in religious 
disputes, their opinion had little to do with their religious iden- 
tity. This had begun to change after the Ayodhya agitation 
gathered momentum. It only became a permanent feature after 
the demolition. The fact that a leading news magazine decided 
to throw open one of its pages so that a Muslim journalist could 
express his viewpoint as a Muslim, is indicative of the acceptance 
by the s)rstem of the evolution of a separate Muslim opinion as 
distinct from the earlier non-partisan viewpoint. What had been 
demolished in Ayodhya, for the educated Muslims, was not just 
a mere structure that had been used as a mosque before the idols 
were forcibly installed in 1949) but a symbol had been 
demolished. The Babri Masjid had symbolised the right of the 
Muslims to live with dignity in India, where no injustice would 
be done to them. With the demolition, each Muslim was made 
acutely conscious of the fact that he was a MusUm first and an 
Indian later. It was a reversal of the attitude that had prevailed 
amongst the majority of MusUms, especially the educated, before 
the demoUtion. 

The demoUtion of the Babri Masjid marked the end of a phase of 
history that in one way had started with the VHP incorporating the 


354 



Ram temple demand in its agenda in March 1984. In other respects, 
it marked the end of a phase that had started in 1925, with the for- 
mation of the RSS. After spending nearly seventy years on the side 
trying to propagate the Hindutva idea, the RSS clan found itself 
close to realising its dream of fostering its world view on the 
majority of Indians. It was not just the demolition of the mosque 
that was being endorsed by a vast number of Hindus, but of 
greater import, was the overt endorsement of a broader set of is- 
sues raked up during the course of the Ayodhya agitation. The 
widespread communal riots that followed the demolition, are 
livid testimony to this endorsement that Muslims in this country 
have to now live with a "transformed set of realities".^ The reality 
being that the majority of Hindus now believed that Muslims 
could no longer demand special rights on account of their minority 
status. They would have to firet "merge their identity with the 
mainstream,"* before expecting any constitutional protection. 
Beinga Muslim in India had always been difocultafterthe creation 
of Pakistan, it had only become tougher. It had also become tough 
to be a secular Hindu willing to disagree with the world view of the 
RSS clan. 

The demolition of the Babri Masjid, marked the end of a 
historical phase in realpodtik. Not only did the Union govern- 
ment disregard "its constitutional obligations in not preventing 
the mosque's destruction,"^ but as successive developments con- 
tinued to prove on several occasions, it failed to evolve a coherent 
political strategy to politically counter further damage to Indian 
polity, from the continued onslaught of the. RSS clan. In fact, the 
Union government even failed to "soothe the injured feelings"*® 
of the Muslims. It has been pointed out by a legal exp^ that 
the Prime Minister falsely sought protection by claiming that the 
Centre could not have prevented the demolition because con- 
stitutionally "the Centre could intervene only after imposition 
of President 's mie,"** in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The argument 
is open handed: "Had oiu: Prime Minister paid a little less atten- 
tion to political expediency and a little more to our Constitution, 


355 



he would have realised that our Constitution had armed the 
Union with ample powers to prevent national catastrophes blow- 
ing up in any state of India". The main contention of the Union 
government regarding its refusal to dismiss the state government 
of Uttar Pradesh prior to the demolition has been, that it could 
not take unilateral action in the wake of the assurance given by 
the state government to the Supreme Court. This was namely 
that it would not violate the orders of the Court and that only 
"symbolic kar seva" would be allowed. In a wfay it was a con- 
venient position which suggested that a section of the Union 
government was not averse to the demolition of the mosque. 
When the state government was dismissed several hours after 
the demolition of the mosque, the Union government acted by 
invoking Article 356 of the Constitution, which states that 
President's rule can be promulgated in any state if the "President, 
on receipt of a report from the Governor of the state or otherwise, 
is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government 
of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with !he 
provisions of this Constitution".’^ President's rule was thus im- 
posed in the state of Uttar Pradesh because following the demoli- 
tion, the BJP-controlled Council of Ministers in the state had 
failed in its basic constitutional obligation of ensuring that the 
order of the Supreme Court was not violated. The Union govern- 
ment thus could not trust the state government to discharge 
other constitutional responsibilities which is why the order was 
promulgated. 

However, an expert legal opinion points out that the Union 
government had erred in not resorting to the use of Article 355 
of the Constitution, and thus was guilty of failing to discharge 
its constitutional responsibilities. Article 355 of the Constitution 
categorically states: "It shall be the duty of the Union to protect 
every state against external aggression and internal disturbance 
and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on 
in accordance to the provisions of this Constitution".*’ It has 
been argued that while Article 355 thrust upon the Union, the 


356 



responsibility to protect every state from both "external aggres- 
sion" and "internal disturbance", the following Article of the 
Constitution "provides for the consequence of a state not being 
carried on in accordance with the provisions of our Constitu- 
tion".’^ It has been argued therefore that while the Union govern- 
ment acted after the state government failed to protect the state 
from internal disturbance, the Union did not act to protect the 
state of Uttar Pradesh, even though there were manifest indica- 
tions of internal disturbance. In its defence, the Union govern- 
ment has resorted to the weak argument that Article 355 of the 
Constitution had not previously been invoked by any Union 
government. Even at best, this is a thin veil for its political in- 
ability and lack of real motivation to prevent the demolition. 

The Union government's failure to act in accordance with the 
Constitution was evident not just prior to the demolition, but 
also on several occasions thereafter. The attack on the Babri 
Masjid started minutes before noon on December 6, and the 
Union government was apprised of the development through its 
intelligence network. However, the cabinet meeting was con- 
vened only at 6 P.M. that evening’®, which in effect meant that 
there was a deathly conspiratorial silence from the Union 
government, while the kar sevaks were demolishing the mosque. 
Finally, President's rule was imposed in the Stale, but this led 
to no improvement in the ground reality in Ayodhya. An inquiry 
report states that "From about noon on December 6 to early 
morning on December 8, there was a power vacuum in Ayod- 
hya".’* The vacuum was caused by the transfer of the local 
officials and the fact that the "new Divisional Commissioner and 
Senior Superintendent of Police only arrived on the night of 
December 7 and the morning of December 8 respectively". 
Moreover, the declaration of President's rule "did not result in 
swift action by the Central forces, to clear the kar sevaks from 
the Babri M.'sjid site area or stop the latter's criminal activity".’^ 
The criminal activity after the demolition of the mosque was 
two-pronged: Constructing' a makeshift temple-like structure; 


357 



and attacking the life and proper! / of Muslims of Ayodhya. The 
Union government has made contradictory claims regarding the 
delay in clearing the area of kar sevaks. While at one place it has 
contended that the timing of entry in the area was left to the 
security forces because of the tense situation and the belligerent 
mood of the kar sevaks, at another place, they reckoned that "it 
would be preferable to send the security forces on the night of 
7-8 December".^* In the aftermath of the demolition of the 
mosque, the Union government continued with the policy of the 
state government. This meant not resorting to force in preventing 
the kar sevaks. from continuing their illegal acLvity. A panel of 
independent scholars perused evidence relating to the demoli- 
tion and suggested that the evidence "squarely points to the dec r 
failure of the Central government to fulfill its constitutional 
obligations. Whether this was c'ue to a failure of judgment, or 
its own perceived political interests, is not possible for us to 
judge". The fact remain, ’hough that by the time the disputed 
site had been cleared of kar sevaks and security forces talcen 
control much of the debris had been taken away by the dispers- 
ing kar sevaks, a makeshift stru^'tuije had by then been built over 
and the idols had been reinstalled. By the morning of December 
8 it be'^ame obvious that the Union government had colluded in 
the cementing of the makeshift structure. This ensured that its 
continued presence would emerge as the main issue in the 
temple-town eclipsing the idea of rebuilding the mosque. Noth- 
ing underlined this more than a photograph prominently printed 
in newspapers on December 9. The picture, taken the previous 
morning shortly after the security forces gained control of *:he 
site, showed two constables of the CRP.'^ paying obeisance to the 
idols kept inside the makeshift structure. The picture was in 
complete contrast from the images of the time when policemen 
stood on guard inside the mosque to ward off trouble by mischief 
makers. Like other wings of the State machinery, the role of the 
security forces had been completely reversed. 

Predictably, the demolition of the Babri Masjid evoked sharp 


358 



reactions in political circles as well as among the people. While 
rioting erupted in several towns and cities of India, there was a 
sei^se of outrage in the Islamic world. In Pakistan, the United 
Kingdom and many other countries, instances were reported of 
attacks on Hindu temples. A total of 240 temples, two gurud- 
waras, and one church were attacked and damaged in Pakistan. 
In Bangladesh, 305 temples, 1,300 houses and 270 commercial 
est;.blishments belonging to the minority Hindus were either 
damaged or destroyed. In the United Kingdom, 18 temples and 
cultural centres were damaged, while in Afghanistan four 
temples and ^hree gurudwaras were attacked by people protest- 
ing against the demolition of the 3abri Masjid. The anger in the 
Islamic worlc^ was urderstandable in the sense that the Babri 
Masjid was now perceived as a symbol of identity for Muslims 
in India. In failing to prevent its demolition the Union govern- 
ment failed to protect the identity of Muslims in India. The 
political reaction in India among the adversaries o' the RSS was 
one of outrage and anger. All non-BJP opposition parties called 
for punitive action against the leaders of the RSS clan. These 
parties /ere joined by several members of the ruling party, 
including several Union Ministers. The Prime Minister main- 
tained that he had been betrayed by the leaders of the RSS clan 
as they had promis«,d tiim toat kar seva would be a peaceful 
prograr tme and the babri Masjid would not be damaged. Critics 
of the Prime Minis! 3 r inside the party and in other non-BJP 
opposition parties predictably called for his resignation, for turn- 
ing a convenient Nelson's eye to the plans of the RSS tlan. 

The Union government on its part, acted in fits and bursts. 
Forced into action by various contrasting postures, the Prime 
Minister initiated punitive action against the RSS clan and its 
leaders. The RSS, VHP, and Bajrang Dal were banned along with 
the Muslim fundamentalist Islamic Sevak Sangh and the Jamaat- 
e-Islami. Several leaders of the banned organisation along with 
senior BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Uma Bharti and Murli 
Manokar Joshi were detailed as were VHP leader Ashok Singhal 


359 



and Bajrang Dal chief Vinay Katiyar. However, the arrests were 
made on a clumsily filed FIR that was doomed not to hold much 
water with the judiciary. This was demonstrated later when a 
local court ordered the release of the arrested leaders. Similarly, 
the order banning the RSS was not framed skillfully and was 
subsequently struck down by a special Tribunal appointed to 
examine the ban order. From the time the RSS clan started ex- 
hibiting signs of their plan to demolish the Babri Masjid, the 
Union government made half-hearted attempts to foil the plans 
of the BJP, and other RSS affiliates. This approach was in con- 
tinuation of the Union government's previous policy, and even 
after it became evident that the RSS clan was gaining from the 
soft stance of the government, there was no attempt to reverse 
the policy. 

It has been widely alleged that the failure of the Union govern- 
ment to take strong pre-emptive steps before the demolition and 
a planned political offensive against the RSS, is largely because 
of the perceived softness of the Prime Minister towards the Hin- 
du tva idea.^ On several occasions the actions of the Prime Min- 
ister have suggested that while he and his supporters within the 
Congress party are not averse to building the temple at Ayodhya 
as per the plan of the VHP, it did not wish to allow the RSS clan 
to reap political benefits from the action.^' In a way, this was 
indicative of the success of the RSS in popularising the Hindutva 
idea. While political adversaries of the BJP could continue with 
their slanging match, the parties nevertheless had to declare that 
they were not opposed to the Ram temple being built at the 
disputed site. The Congress, no longer a one-leader party after 
the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, witnessed increased internal 
wranglings after the demolition of the mosque primarily on the 
question of the Prime Minister perceived softness towards the 
RSS clan. This led to further growth of the BJP and other RSS 
affiliates. While the government floundered, the resolve of the 
BJP to carry the battle beyond the demolition was solidifying. 
By the middle of 1993, the BJP had started making predatory 

360 



moves in preparation for a final assault on the citadel of power 
in India. 

The initial reaction of the RSS clan to the demolition was one 
of disbelief. L.K. Advani, a witness to the deed expressed regret 
and sadness. He tendered his resignation as leader of the Op- 
position in the Lok Sabha sa 3 dng that he was "sorry that I could 
not prevent"^ the demolition. The first response of the leaders 
of the RSS clan stationed in Delhi on December 6 w«is that the 
demolition had not been carried out by its supporters, but that 
the detractors of the Hindutva movement had precipitated the 
action with a view to discredit the VHP and its allies,^’ The 
private secretary of Balasaheb Deoras, the RSS sarsanghchalak, 
even suggested that the demolition had been organised by a 
"secret agency of the government" With reports and 
photographs showing that a large number of BJP and VHP 
leaders had been jubilant while witnessing the demolition, it 
became increasingly apparent that the RSS clan was both divided 
and on the defensive. This was a short aberration, for the decision 
to simultaneously ban the RSS and its allies and then to arrest 
its key leaders cemented the fissures within the clan. In just a 
few days after the demolition, aggression was once again evident 
on the facade of the RSS and its allies. With the Union govern- 
ment finally bowing to the pressure of the strong anti-BJP sen- 
timent within the party, it decided to dismiss the BJP-govemed 
Ministries in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and 
Himachal Pradesh. The BJP found itself in the position that it 
enjoyed best one of "splendid isolation".^ 

From the second week of December, the destruction of the 
mosque was justified. The main argument put forward was quite 
simplistic: The demolition "would have been easily avoided had 
the Central government cooperated with the government of 
Uttar Pradesh in trying to obtain an early decision from the 
Lucknow F i‘j;h Court" The argument was that the High Court 
was looking into the case regarding the state government's 
decision to acquire 2.77 acres of disputed land at Ayodhya. Since 


361 



the VHP had already acquired ownership of a major part of this 
land and property, prior to the acquisition by the state govern- 
ment, even if the Court struck down the acquisition order, the 
kar seva programme could proceed legally. The Union govern- 
ment was roundly criticised for its "calculated strategy to use 
courts to thwart kar seva".*^ Other adversaries were accused for 
their "provocative speeches"^* that "set the stage for an emotive 
outburst".*’ 

At no point however, was there an attempt to explain why 
the VHP did not postpone the kar seva programme. The argU' 
ment was merely a continuation of the RSS approach that only 
the time schedules it had laid out were of any consequence. Other 
political forces could be expected to alter position and change 
deadlines, but the RSS clan had no obligation to shift from its 
announced posture. 

Even though the main leaders of the BJP were under deten- 
tion, the second-ranking leaders embarked on an offensive drive 
and called for an intensification of the agitation to seek early 
elections in the four states that had been governed by the BJP 
before the demolition. A virtual war council was set up in the 
absence of the top leadership. The fact that the RSS clan had 
consistently shifted its stance on the Ayodhya issue was again 
underlined when the party claimed that while the construction 
of the proposed temple would be carried out "the idols can be 
temporarily shifted".^*’ This was in variance to the VHP position 
during the negotiations in 1989 and later, that the sanctum 
sanctorum of the temple must be at the precise spot where the 
idols were placed because ^hey "could r .'vt be shifted".^' By the 
end of December 1992, it was clear that the BJP was keen to 
capitalise on the Hindu euphoria generated by the removal of 
the mosque. Although the defensive face of the party that had 
been visible in the immediate zdtermath of the de nolition, this 
was soon replaced with a brazen one. A senior party leader, 
writing his signed editorial in the official organ of the BJP em- 
phatically declared tht i the demolition of the Babri Masjid had 


362 



"put a full stop to the issue" He likened the demolition to the 
"pulling down of the Berlin Wall," and declared that the "New 
World Order will be based on Faith, not divorced from Reason". 
Read in the backdrop of other assertions of the leaders of the 
RSS clan, it was not in doubt that the 'Faith' would be Hindu 
and nothing else. Another senior RSS leader, while reacting to 
the anger sweeping the Islamic world declared that "if the Is- 
lamic countries dare to wage a 'jehad' they will get the answer 
they got from the Jews. Last time in 1947, we surrendered to 
them mainly because there was a third power in between. This 
time the Hindus are more awakened and organised. There will 
be no surrender".’*’ The aggressive face of the BJP was also 
starkly evident during L.K, Advani's press conference, following 
his release in the second week of January. By then it was clear 
that the BJP and other RSS affiliates had decided to shed all 
pretensions of tolerance. There was no doubt now that if the BJP 
came to power, the country would be governed according to the 
dictates of the party leadership. 

The changed global order also came in handy for the RSS clan. 
With the collapse of the communist bloc and the end of the Cold 
War, the western powers now perceived the Islamic world as 
their new bete noire. Historically, it was like a return to the time 
of the Crusades or 'I ^oly Wars' where Christianity and Islam 
were bitterly ranged against each other. In a situation of conflict 
between the Christian and IsJamic worlds, a Zionist Israel and a 
Hindu India could only be seen as natural allies of the western 
world, for they ali now had a common enemy. This idea was 
apparent in the RSS clan. A senior leader stated that the BJP 
strategy in the southern state of Kerala which has over 40 per 
cent Muslim vo'ers, to "gain .r ioothold"’'* they would have to 
concentrate on constituencies where Syrian Christians along 
with Hindus could be swayed. In many ways, the shape of things 
in an India ;:overned by the RSS in the guise of the BJP should 
they come to power, would resemble a Zionist state. The parallels 
of approach of the BJP and Zionist Israel was very evident during 


363 



the visit of the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, to 
India in May 1993. At the traditional meeting between him and 
the Leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani, the Israeli leader 
suggested that India should tackle the Kashmir problem the way 
the Israelis had found a solution to the problem in the West Bank: 
Organise government-aided Hindu colonisation of Muslim 
majority Kashmir, and thereby radically alter the demographic 
character of the region.’® 

In a likely future scenario in India ruled by the BJP, it is likely 
that there would be striking similarities betwe^ India and Israel. 
Differences within the RSS clan would surface every now and 
then but not over the parameters of the debate. This is indicated 
by the differences that have periodically surfaced regarding tac- 
tical strategies. Atal Behari Vajpayee has frequently expressed 
his unease with the single-minded devotion with whi^h the BJP 
has pursued the Ayodhya agitation. Nevertheless, he has never 
questioned the basic intent of the agitation. There have been 
differences between Murli Manohar Joshi, L.K. Advani jnd 
others over the manner in which the Hindu clergy should be 
involved in the political process. The differences would certainly 
remain, and continue to surface even if the BJP came to power 
at the Centre. The moot point is however, that the parameters 
of the debate within the RSS clan is restricted and there is no 
contradiction in the basic understanding that the position of 
Hindus is supreme and Hinduism is the guiding principle of 
India. The situation is similar to the political reality in Israel, 
where there are opposing parties that battle it out during elec- 
tions. However, the parameters of the Zionist state are never 
questioned. If the BJP comes to power in India, India would be 
a closed society in political terms. 

For starters, India will have a new name: Hindudesh. The 
change is considered necessary because India is "an English word, 
not an Indian or Hindu word," and the advocate of the idea sees no 
reason "to identify" himself with "foreigners". The argument, 
published in the organ of the RSS barely a few weeks after the 


364 



demolition of the Babri Masjid/^ is indicative of the structure of 
society perceived in the country if the BJP came to power. The 
word India is foreign which is why the name of the country has to 
be changed, and to stop Indians from identifying themselves with 
a foreign concept. So what should be the new name, the ideologue 
asks. Options are discussed. Bharat is ruled out as the new name 
because the citizens would be called Bharatis and it "sounds like a 
surname, not the name of a nationality". The attempt thus would 
be to "find a pucca Bharati word to describe ourselves and our 
country". For several generations, India has also been referred as 
Hindustan. The term has been used by poets, novelists, politicians. 
But the advocate of the argument to rename India is "not happy 
with it either". The reason is simple enough: "There are too many 
'stans' around us and they have an Islamic, not Hindu connota- 
tion. And what would be the term for a citizen of Hindustan? A 
Hindustani, like Hindustani music? No I would rather have a term 
with a pure Hindu sound" . The alternative name proposed is thus 
Hindudesh as it is " distinct from the 'stans' around us, particularly 
those with Islamic or Russian connotation". With India renamed 
Hindudesh, the nationality of citizens would be Hindu and "this 
will solve many problems. Since everybody will be a Hindu, there 
can be no minorities, for it is absurd to think that in Hindudesh, 
there can be a Hindu majority and a Hindu minority" . The argu- 
ment is at one level ludicrous, but at the other level it exposes the 
strategy to settle the issue of minorities in the country. "When 
everybody is a Hindu there can be no problems, which arise only 
when you say that you are an Indian, not a Hindu. If you are an In- 
dian, you can be an Indian Muslim, or a Muslim Indian. But if you 
are a Hindu national, you cannot be a Hindu Muslim, or a Muslim 
Hindu". However, even the .■'rlvocate of the renaming India as 
Hindudesh is aware of the opposition to the idea. How does the 
RSS clan propose to deal with opposition. The critics, if they do not 
like the idea of being described as Hindus in their passports "can 
lump it" fi'i Hindudesh and the subsequent decision to call 
citizens Hindus will become a reality "sooner than he (the critic) 


365 



thinks''.^^ 

The argument regarding the renaming of India was not the 
only occasion when the intolerant face of the RSS was evident. 
As a part of the strategy to mobilise support for its demand, that 
the Ram temple be built at the disputed site (with the sanctum 
sanctorum located at thi place where the idols are installed), and 
the mosque be rebuilt outside the area traversed by pilgrims 
during the festive season, the VHP embarked on a massive sig- 
nature campaign. The programme was envisaged as an oppor- 
tunity for mass contact,’* the plan was to collect millions of 
signatures and submit the memorandum to the President of 
India. In the course of the programme, RSS activists went from 
door to door, seeking endorsement from the people during the 
months of February and March. Naturally, some respondents 
were unwilling to sign the memorandum and made wiis plainly 
understood to the RSS canvassers. This led to some harassment 
of those people who refused to sign,’** more importantly it ex- 
posed them to the local leaders of the B]P and other RSS affiliates. 
The programme was actually a very successful public referen- 
dum and what's more,made the task of the RSS clan easier. As 
a result of the campaign they also nOw had the names of people 
who were against the Hindu tva idea. Thi'' meant that in future, 
the opponents of Hindutva could either be specially targeted, or 
special efforts made to win them over. The signature campaign 
and the simple and direct manner in which the RSS identified 
those opposed to their world view, raised the chilling spectre of 
a singular and regimented society. Senior leaders of the clan were 
adamant however, that the programme had not even considered 
sue*, a vision.**” Viewed against the backdrop of brutal attacks 
on journalists and photographers reporting on the demolition of 
the Babri Masjid, the assurances of the BJP and the RSS fraternity 
appear to be mere lip service. 

The demolition of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent 
euphoria has served to underline that the RSS clan had made 
considerable headway in the proverbial battle for the hearts of 


366 



the people. On a more sinister level, it was another battle that 
the RSS clan had fought from its inception, with little success. 
That, however, began to change after the elections of when 
the BJP was voted to power in the four north Indian slates. This 
was when a concerted attempt was begun to indoctrinate the 
minds of the people. Taking a cue from the proverbial advice to 
'catch them young', the state governments began rewriting 
textbooks for school children. Though a highly controversial 
step,^^ existing history books were replaced with others that 
propagated the Hindutva concept of history. Subjects like Vedic 
mathematics wore added to the curriculum. The idea behind the 
decision was a simple one: The RSS clan believed that the hislorv 
being taught in school was "distorted and had Marxist and Im- 
perialist interpretations. Children have to be taught true history 
from the beginning".'*^ The decision of the Uttar Pradesh group 
to replace the textbook led to a protracted dispute with the Union 
government. Arjun Singh, the Minister overseeing the Education 
portfolio, had his base in north India and wanted to project 
himself as the rallying point for the anti-BJP political forces. The 
demolition of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent dismissal of 
the state governments put an end to the plan to replace the 
textbooks, but the RSS clan had sensed the advantage of being 
able to adulterate ev)ucation and other forms of communication. 
Inexorably, the next target was culture, as artists and other crea- 
tive people have historically conveyed political messages 
through sublime forms. 

Barely a few months after the demolition, a cultural commen- 
tator noted that the "inevitable is now happening. Ccilture is 
rapidly coming under siege. After the Constitution, Parliament 
and the judiciary, forces of luajoritarianism are extending their 
bullying tactics to areas of culture, art, expression" What had 
led the commentator to make the observation, was the develop- 
ment of the RSS clan directing the Film Makers' Combine, an 
apex body of the film industry of India, not to make films which 
hurt the sensibilities of Hindus. Shortly afterwards, noted theatre 


367 



personality Habib Tanvir was targeted by the VHP unit in the 
United Kingdom during a tour that began in the last week of 
May 1993. Shortly before Habib Tanvir was to begin his three- 
week-long performing tour, the VHP unit in the UK told the 
local organisers that they would not allow the director to stage 
his plays because the director "spread malicious lies."^^ They 
insisted that it was the "cardinal duty" of the VHP to prevent 
this "poison of the propaganda in the name of secular art". The 
anger of the VHP was invoked by a "highly motivated piece" in 
a Hindi newspaper published from Delhi that portrayed a "cas- 
teist brahminical priest who had no qualms fortfeiting his honour 
before money and lust".'**’ The play was not a part of the package 
that the director was scheduled to stage, but the decision to write 
the satirical adaptation of a folk play was enough to raise the 
hackles of the VHP. 

This attack on Habib Tanvir followed a concerted bid to 
govern the kind of films made in India. The Film Makers' Com- 
bine, an apex body of all film makers in India, was told to ensyre 
that its members made films which "portray Hindu culture and 
values; not ridicule Hindu sentiments; artists posing in the nude 
should be banned from starring in'films; members of the film 
industry should not criticise the Ayodhya movement; and Hindu 
films must not have Urdu credit titles".^* There was a further 
'dikkat' that rape scenes should not be shown to be taking place 
in any temple premises. The commentator cited earlier, con- 
tinued that "factually sanctified brahniinism, has for centuries 
used the temple premises as its play field".'*^ But it had no impact 
on the directive and the FMC "succumbed to the dictates". One 
stark example of a film script being altered at the behest of the 
RSS clan is an as yet untitled film being made by producer Satish 
Khanna. The film "glorifies a character who is a non-Hindu. 
Khanna now intends to have the script rewritten to project him 
as a Hindu". The decision to mould the Indian film industry to 
promote the Hindutva idea was an obvious one for the RSS clan 
because of the awesome reach of the industry. Successful popular 


368 



films in India have traditionally become a part of the contem- 
porary idiom and have even at times, become part of the folklore. 
While the film industry was under the saffron siege, the com- 
mentator observed that the advocates of the Hindutva idea did 
not "realise that their politics is as fictional as the films that they 
were busy berating". 

The attempt to doctor the kind of cinema being made in India 
had followed the categorical rejection of the Constitution, by the 
Hindu clergy associated with the Ayodhya agitation. These 
religious leaders had asserted that the Constitution violated the 
"culture, character, situation, and people"^’ of the country. 
Several months after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, it was evi 
dent that virtually all existing institutions were under threat from 
the RSS clan, and the character of the country would be significant- 
ly altered if the BJP came to power at the Centre. The BJP, and the 
Jana Sangh had repeatedly declared that they were against the 
Nehruvian model of polity. While portions of it have been dis- 
mantled by the Congress government after 1991 with its economic 
liberalisation drive, the BJP has repeatedly resolved to dismember 
the remnants of the model, especially where it pertained to the 
status of minorities. Liberal democratic institutions were under 
threat, the form and content of the educational system had been 
questioned, culture Vv as being sought to be moulded into a pliable 
instrument, and even the Constitution had been rejected. It be- 
came apparent that India wou Id be fundamentally altered the mo- 
ment the RSS clan was voted into power. The bitter irony was that 
none of the political adversaries exhibited any long-term plan to 
contain the further growth of the RSS clan. The ruling Congress 
was beset with internal contradictions, and lack of foresight. Other 
opposition parties remained fragmented, and short-term aims 
governed their postures. 

The stupefying failure of the Indian system was most evident 
in Bombay, that had been rocked by unprecedented violence in 
January when the Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP openly led or- 
ganised Hindu mobs and .attacked Muslims. The riots which 


369 



forced thousand of Muslim migrants to the city to flee their place 
of dwelling overnight, also witnessed the "most distressing 
dimension of overt and covert consent of the city's middle class 
and the upper middle class youth in bestial acts of violence, 
looting and arson" As a counter to the practice among Muslims 
to offer namaz on Friday afternoons in large numbers, the Shiv 
Sena floated the concept of Maha Arti a public ritual. A police 
official deposing before a judicial commission probing the riots, 
declared that people returning from these rituals had the inten- 
tion to indulge in violence. However, the Indian State made little 
effort to initiate punitive action against those guilty of organised 
attacks on Muslims of Bombay. On the contrary, the State vir- 
tually shielded the guilty. The apathy of the government was so 
evident that it forced a commentator to observe that the "persons 
protesting at the demolition of the Babri Masjid, are shot in the 
head by the police, but the individual proudly crowing that he 
demolished the shrine is left untouched; the government takes 
legal action against a young scholar for writing an academic 
piece on the lionisation of Shivaji, but ignores the open exhorta- 
tions by a paper to kill the Muslims; a filmstar possessing a 
firearm is arrested under a law meant for terrorists, while the 
man who unabashedly owns responsibility for the January 
pogrom goes scot-free" The person being mentioned in the 
comment was the Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, and the paper 
mentioned is the official organ of the party and the filmstar 
mentioned was Sanjay Dutt. 


With the Indian Stateabrogatingitsdutyof protectingMuslims 
under attack from the Shiv Sena, and other RSS affiliates, it was 
only a matter of time before matters came to a head. The financial 
capital was rocked by a well-organised serial bombing in March, 
leaving many dead and much of debris. While the police investiga- 
tions linked the episode to a section of the underworld of the city, it 
also raised visions of Islamic terrorism in India. Planned with great 
care, the serial bombings were clearly an answer to the January 
riots as the perpetrators of the bombings were predominantly 


370 



Muslim members of the underworld. The bombing dampened the 
spirit of the advocates of theHindutva idea as it now raised visions 
of an enemy that would be difficult if not impossible to contain. 
Unlike other fissiparous movements in India, Islamic terrorism, if 
it became a reality, would be catastrophic as it would not be 
restricted to a geographical pocket. The Indian State had already 
after all, demonstrated its inability to counter Sikh terrorism out- 
side of the Punjab. The bombings also served as a dire warning to 
leading industrialists regarding the possible form of opposition to 
the rise of the Hindutva idea. The blasts had the desired effect, as 
moderation became visible among the Hindutva advocates in the 
aftermath of the bombings. 

While the serial bombings controlled the venomous outpour- 
ings of the Shiv Sena and the RSS clan marginally, it also aided 
in further political polarisation. Ever since the RSS clan began 
its climb using the Ayodhya ladder, the BJP and its allies have 
consistently sent out signals to the Muslims. The message was 
that they were welcome to live in India in peace, but they had 
to know their limits and also stay confined within the parameters 
framed by the clan. These signals were being sent constantly 
even during violent interludes. The suggestion was that it would 
be better for the Muslims to come to terms with the emerging 
stranglehold of the RC > clan, and the Hindutva influence on the 
body-politic of India, and make peace with it. The inferment was 
that if the Muslims did not «.ome to terms with the emerging 
reality, they would be taught a lesson.^^ The Bombay riots were 
and extreme example. It was a indication that the Muslims had 
no justification in protesting against the demolition of the Babri 
Masjid and this is why they were being penalised. If the riots 
sent a signal to the Muslims to "learn to behave," the serial 
bombing of the city was a signal to the advocates of the Hindutva 
idea of just what Islamic terrorism was capable of. It had a very 
sobering effect on the RSS clan, which at last woke up to the fact 
that the Muslims could not be wished away in one stroke. The 
bombings caused confusion in the ranks of the BJP and the other 

371 



RSS allies. Barring the standard condemnation, the party failed 
to evolve a comprehensive analysis of the blasts and the factors 
that led up to them.®’ Immediately following the incident, the 
leaders increased the frequency of their call to Muslims, to join 
their ranks. Appeals were mcde for Muslims to form an opinion 
of the RSS clan after personal evaluation, and not be guided by 
the opinion of its detractors.®* 

The visible confusion in the RSS clan after the serial bombings 
spilled over to other areas. At the core of their absence of a clear 
foresight, was the issue of the degree of vehemence to be adopted 
by the BJP and allies, on the Ram temple issue. While the more 
boisterous sections wanted to continue the aggressive stance that 
had led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Bombay 
riots, other sections wanted to act with restraint. The differences 
in opinion were also coloured with factionalism that surfaced 
once again in the BJP. The group led by Murli Manohar Joshi 
lost out to the group led by L.K. Advani and the former retaliated 
by attempting to involve the Hindu clergy in a political campaign 
on the twin issues of use of 'swadeshi' products and a demand 
for total rejection of the Dunkel Draft on trade agreement. This 
caused great consternation in the rivaf group as it raised visions 
of an Iran-style uprising in India. The BJP's association with it 
would be detrimental to their international image as a party 
capable of controlling the forces that it had let loose in the course 
of the Ayodhya agitation. The differences within the RSS clan 
however, were only confined to the basic parameter set by the 
leadership. The impression being that India could evolve into a 
state similar to Israel, where different parties existed, had dif- 
ferences, but remained committed to the Zionist character of the 
State. 

The demolition of the Babri Masjid was not the last upheaval 
witnessed by India. There was more political melodrama to follow 
when Harshad Mehta, the key accused in the country's biggest 
ever financial scam accused the Prime Minister of accepting a bribe 
of one crore rupees. The allegation was made when the Joint 


372 



Parliamentary Committee, formed to investigate the manner in 
which large amounts of public funds was surreptitiously used in 
the security market, opened the Pandora's Box. There were allega- 
tions that stock broker Harshad Mehta had been set up by the BJP 
leadership, after promising to reduce charges against him when 
the party came to power.®® The irregularities in the security market 
and the Mehta allegation, was the biggest financial scandal to hit 
India since the ongoing Bofors scandal which was instrumental in 
discrediting Rajiv Gandhi. There was a significant difference, 
however, in the campaign against Rajiv Gandhi and the one 
mounted against P.V.Narasimha Rao. While in the late 1980s the 
campaign was primarily led by V.P. Singh and other centrist op- 
position parlies, with the BJP riding piggy back on the Janata Dal- 
led conglomerate, in 1993, the BJP was keen to have the lion's share 
of the anti-corruption campaign. Traditionally, anti-corruption 
platforms have been populist in India, and seldom have politicians 
succeeded in emerging unscathed in the people's court, even 
though charges may not have stuck legally. The BJP had to play 
second fiddle to the centrist opposition parties in the campaign 
against Rajiv Gandhi primarily because it was only a small 
peripheral political party in the mid-1980s. By 1993, the situation 
had altered considerably for the BJP was now the second largest 
political party in Parliament and was poised to make even more in- 
roads in the next Parliamentary elections. The BJP opted to take the 
lead on the corruption issue and declared that the "ruling party's 
failure to answer the grave allegations made against the highest in 
the land,"®^’ was indicative of the paralysis gripping the Congress. 
By the time the BJP resolved some of its internal conflicts, and had 
partially set its house in order by re-electing l,.K, Advani as presi- 
dent of the party, the stage had been set for the final assault by the 
BJP. The same strategy had been used earlier in 1989, but at that 
time the platform was shared with centrist opposition parties. This 
is not the c )se in 1993 and the BJP along with the other RSS af- 
filiates, did not feel the need for outside allies. The mix of issues 
however, still remains the s^me. The Ram temple issue continues 

373 



to dominate the political plank of the RSS clan. Neatly dovetailing 
into this is the issue of a corrupt government and the promise that 
given a chance, the BJP will remove material as well as spiritual ills. 
The concept of Ram Rajya reigns supreme in the list of BJP's 
promises. There were no remnants of the bonhomie between the 
Prime Minister and the BJP, as witnessed immediately after the 
1991 elections. For the BJP and the other RSS clones, it was time to 
prepare for the final assault. It was expected to be a protracted no- 
holds-barred battle. Nothing symbolised this better than the re- 
election of L.K. Advani as the president of the party. The decision 
to give him another tenure was reminiscent of 1986 when the BJP 
consciously shed its liberal facade and revealed its hard Hindu 
face. The re-elected BJP president also lived up to his image as a 
person who did not mince words regarding the view of the party. 
Immediately after donning the mantle of the chief storm trooper, 
he likened the demolition of the Babri Masjid to the mythical in- 
cineration of Lanka by Hanuman after he had been despatched 
t here by Ram, to locate the abducted Sita. I’he metaphor offered by 
Advani, was that even though Hanuman had not been given the 
specific brief to burn l.,anka, he had acted on his own after seeing 
Sita confined . Advani contended that this was similar to the action 
of the kar sevaks who had demolished the Babri Masjid without 
being specifically directed to do so. The argument was that if 
Hanuman had not been condemned for the burning of Lanka, the 
kar sevaks also should not be criticised for the demolition. This 
was a neat dovetailing of mythology into contemporary politics, 
and underlined themannerin which the RSS clan has used religion 
and related motifs, to justify their political actions. The response of 
the Indian Slate also combined similar elements as the Prime Min- 
ister likened his plight, after the allegation of accepting a bribe, to 
that of Sita forced to undergo the fire test because Ram doubted her 
chastity. L.K. Advani also reacted strongly to the move of the 
Union government to enact a legislation, that would prevent the 
use of religion in politics. 

The BJP president declared that in India, religion could not 


374 



be delinked from politics because religion formed the ethical core 
of the country.®^ It went without sa3dng, of course, that the BJP 
leader was talking about Hinduism as being the basis of ethics 
in India. Other faiths h^d no relation to any tradition of India. 
The BJP thus began preparing for a final push that would thrust 
them up the citadel of power in India. Whether the strategy 
would meet with success or not, is a drama still to unfold, there 
is no doubt that the RSS clan has emerged as one of the most 
significant political forces in India and the world would have to 
contend with it. 

These are surely not the last lines to be written on Ayodhya 
and the continuing growth of the RSS clan and the other advo- 
cates of the Hindutva idea. This is particularly true for even 
Advani said that the process of political polarisation between the 
BJP and its political adversaries, is yet incomplete. The assertion 
has been underscored by the fact that all non-BJP parties did not 
forge electoral ties in the elections for the assemblies in the four 
states that were governed by the BJP before the demolition of 
the Babri Masjid. This would suggest that the RSS clan would 
continue w’ith the style of politics that ensured their rise as a 
dominant political force. With India currently on a dangerous 
road with many twists and turns, the future developments are 
difficult to foresee. Personally, for me, it has been quite a journey 
since the time I decided to write this book. While tracing the 
events and analysing the manner and the factors that led to the 
rise of the RSS clan, large portions have appeared at times both 
fictional and surreal. In a way, much of what has happened in 
India has appeared unreal. There is a parallel I often draw linking 
the phase of history that started with the Bofors scandal, to the 
decline of the Mughal empire. There is at least one strong com- 
parison: A weak Centre and the 'crown' being worn by a string 
of 'kings.' 

I have bee.n vreatly pained at the changing character of Indian 
polity and can only hope that romanticism does not disappear 
permanently from the Indian political theatre and that Indians 


375 



continue to chase abstract fantasies and not a totalitarian system 
where intolerance is the catchword and the negation of Indian 
pluralistic traditions is the golden rule... 



NOTES 




RAMKAND 


1. L.K. Advani, preface to the BJFs White Paper on Ayodhya & Ram 
Temple Movement, 1993. He wrote: *Sri Ram is the unique symbol, 
the unequalled symbol of our oneness, of our integration, as well as 
of our aspiration to live higher values. As Maryada Purushottam, Sri 
Ram has represented for thousands of years, the ideal of conduct, just 
as Ram Rajya has always represented the ideal of governance". 

2. These formulations are based on the Critical Edition of The Ramayan: 
The Valmiki Ramayan, Critically Edited for the First Time, 7 vols, G.H. 
Bhatt & V.P. Shah, Baroda, 1960-75. 

3. J.L. Brockington, The Righteous Rama: The Evolution of an Epic, OUP, 
1984. 

4. Bhatt and Shah, op. cit. 

5. Sukumar Sen, Origin and Development of the Rama Legend, Rupa, 
1977. Also Brockington, op. cit. 

6. Herman Jacobi, Das Ramayan, quoted by Brockington, op. cit. 

7. Namita Bhandare, Louise Fernandes, Sunday, February 21-27, 1993. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Sukumar Sen, op. cit. 

10. Brockington, op. cit. 

1 1 . Ibid. 

12. Brockington, op. cit. His postulations are based on exhaustive research 
and has been drawn from primarily and a majority of secondary sour- 
ces. The subsequent arguments are largely based on Brockington's 
work. 

13. Sukumar Sen, op. cit. 

14. Brockington, op. ci: 

15. Ibid. 

AYODHYAKAND 

1. Interview with Hasan Zaheer, elderly Muslim resident of Ayodhya; 
February 6, 1993. 

2. The local administration also issued show<ause notices to Muslims 
for having rebuilt their houses without getting the plan approved by 
it; reply of P.M. Sayeed, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, to 
question put by Syed Shahabuddin, August 26, 1993. 

3. Sunil Raman, The Economic Times; February 15, 1993. 

4. Shikha 'i -'ivedi, Manushi; November-December, 1992. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid. 

7. Interview with Hashim Arisari; February 6, 1993. 

379 



a Ibid. 

9. R. Narayan, The Economic Times; June 6, 1993. 

10. Sushil Srivastava, The Disputed Mosque: A Historical Inquiry, Vistaar 
Publications; 1991. 

11. Gazetteer of the Province of Oudh, (ed. W.C Benet); 1877. 

12. Ibid. 

13. H.R. Neville, District Gazetteer of Fyzabad; 1905. 

14. Walter Hamilton, The East India Gazetteer, Vol 1; 1815. 

15. Ibid. 

16. Ibid. 

17. Montogomery Martin, The History, Antiquities, Topography & Statis- 
tics of Eastern India. 

18. Pattrick Carnegey, A Historical Sketch of Faizabad Tahsil. 

19. Srivastava, op. cit. 

20. Imperial Gazetteer; 1908. 

21. B.B. Lai, Puratattva, Bulletin of Indian Archaeological Society, No 16; 
1985 & 86. 

22. Ibid. 

23. Indian Archaeology: 1976-76. A Review of Explorations & Excavations. 

24. Srivastava, op. cit. He has attributed the account to Abdul Rahman 
Chisti, Mirat-Masudi, 16^, who in turn drew from an earlier work by 
Mulla Mohammed Ghaznava, a servant of Sultan Mohmud. 

25. Neville, op. cit. 

26. Carnegey, op. cit. 

27. Oudh Gazetteer, op. cit. 

28. Srivastava, op. cit. 

29. Ibid. 

30. Romila Thapar and others. Political Abuse ot History, JNU, 1990. 

31. Ibid. 

32. Srivastava, op. cit. 

33. Ibid. 

34. Ibid. 

35. Ironically, this report was part of the documents submitted by the VHP 
in 1988 to buttress its claim on the Babri Masjid. 

RAJKAND 

1 . Indian Express; December 1 9-20, 1 992. In a two-part article, L.K. Advani 
wrote that December 6, 1992 was "one of the most depressing days" 
in his life as the "happenings had impaired the reputation of the B)? 
and the RSS as organisations capable of enforcing discipline*. 

2. Organiser. 

3. Walter.K. Andersen & Shridhar.D. Damie, The Brotherhood in Saffron: 

380 



The Rashtriya Swayamsevak San^ & Hindu Revivalism, Sage Publi- 
cations; 1988. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Indian National Congress, resolution; June 1934. 

7. Mookeiji addressed a RSS shakha in Lahore in 1940. He has been 
quoted by Balraj Madhok, Portrait of a Martyr; 1%9. 

8. Andersen & Damie, op. cit. 

9. Tapan Basu, Pradip Dutta, Tanika Sarkar & others, Khaki Shorts, Saf- 
fron Flags, Orient Longman; 1993. 

10. Interview with M.G. Vaidya, Nagpur; December 1991. He said the 
meeting to evolve the RSS hierarchy was held on November 9-10, 1929 
and Appaji joshi proposed the concept of following a single leader. 

11. Ibid. 

12. M.S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Andersen and Damie, op. cit. 

16. Ibid. 

17. Interview with M.G. Vaidya, op. cit. 

18. Anderaen & Damble, op. cit. 

19. A debate on the RSS role in the accession of Kashmir to India also 
continued in the Organiser for several weeks in mid-1993. The specific 
roles played by different activists of the RSS was discussed in this 
debate. 

20. Andersen & Damie, op. cit. 

21. Ibid, they cite an interview with Gopal Godse conducted in 1969. 

22. Text of Resolution, Hamm Paanch Nishthayen, BJP publication; 1980. 

23. Ibid. 

24. Ibid. 

25. Andersen & Damie, Also see Atal Behari Vajpayee's presidential 
speech, BJP publication. 

26. Expanding Horizons: BJP's First Decade, BJP publication; 1990. 

27. Many RSS leaders withdrew from party politics arguing that it was a 
"dirty game". Most noteworthy of those who 'retired' was Nanaji 
Deshmukh who opted to branch out and work in a backward and rural 
region in Uttar Pradesh. He however, continued to play an important 
advisory role in the RSS throughout the 1980s and 1990s. 

28. Conversation with K.R. Malkani, BJP vice-president; April 1991. 

29. Dharam Sansad, VHP pamphlet; 1982. 

30. Hindu Chetna, VHP publication; April, 1986. 

31 . Interview with Onkar Bhave, VHP organising secretary, central-zone; 
July 1989. 

32. Text of resolution adopted at Dharam Sansad. 

381 



33. Interview with Mulayam Singh Yadav; December 1992. 

34. Text of resolution, BJP National Executive; February 1982. 

35. Ibid. 

36. Organiser; April 10, 1983. 

37. Atal Behari Vajpayee, presidential address, BJP National Executive, 
Indore; January 1984. 

38. Conversation with VHP leader Mahesh Narain Singh, 1990. 

39. Justice Deoki Nandan Agrawal, Shri Ram Janma Bhoomi: A Historical 
and Legal Perspective; 1989. 

40. Ibid. 

41. Ibid. 

42. Text of resolution; February 2, 1986. 

43. Ibid. 

44. Ibid. 

45. Ibid. 

46. Ibid. 

47. Press statement; February 2, 1986. 

48. Times of India; February 10, 1986. 

49. Text of letter, Muslim India; March 1986. 

50. Ibid. 

51. Ibid. 

52. Text of Letter. 

53. Text of memorandum; February 14, 1986. 

54. Ibid. 

55. See for details. The Shah Bano Case; Plight of a Muslim Woman, ed 
B.R. Agrawala, Arnold-Heinamann; 1986. 

56. Interview with Javed Habeeb; February 1991. 

57. Letter to all Muslim MPs; February 20, 1986. 

58. Press release, Hindu Sangharsh Samiti; February 20, 1986. 

59. Ibid. 

60. Ibid. 

61. VHP pamphlet; Miisalnianon ko kya kanw chahiye, 1988. 

62. Signed editorial, Muslim India; March 1986. 

63. Ibid. 

64. Syed Shahabuddin, Muslim India; April 1986. 

65. Ibid. 

66. Bharatiya Jana Sangh: Principles & Policies adopted at XII BJS Plenary 
session, Vijayawada; January 1%5. 

67. Bharatiya Jana Sangh: National Policy, BJS Party Documents 1951-1972. 

68. Letter dated September 24, 1948, RSS pamphlet. Justice on Trial. 

69. Ibid. 

70. Ibid. 

71. Text of resolution; February 14-15, 1948. 

72. Andersen Damie, op. cit 


382 



73. Text of resolution; August 8-9, 1948. 

74. Interview with M.G. Vaidya, op. dt. 

75. Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Election Manifnto; 1951. 

76. Ibid. 

77. Ibid. 

78. Ibid. 

79. Ibid. 

80. Ibid. 

81. Ibid. 

82. Ibid. 

83. Ibid. 

84. Ibid. 

85. Ibid. 

86. Following the rise and growth of militancy in Punjab, Kashmir and 
North Eastern states, the BJP increasingly advocated the case for a 
stronger Centre. 

87. BJP Election Manifesto, op. dt. 

88. Ibid. 

89. Ibid. 

90. Andersen & Damie, op. cit. 

91. BJS Election Manifesto; 1954. 

92. Ibid. 

93. BJS Election Manifesto; 1957. 

94. Ibid. 

95. Ibid. 

96. BJS Election Manifesto; 1962. 

97. BJS Election Manifesto; 1%7. 

98. Ibid. 

99. Ibid. 

100. Ibid. 

101. Ibid. 

102. Ibid. 

103. BJS Election Manifesto; 1971. 

104. Ibid. 

105. Ibid. 

106. Text of resolution, Januaiy IVtiO, BJS Party Documents Vol 5. 


NYAYAKAND 


1. Source material for this chapter are horn legal documents and reports 
and press releases of the Citizens' Tribunal on Ayodhya. 

383 



PRAHARKAND 


1 . C<mversation with Kishan Lai Shartna, BJP general secretary. Decern* 
ber, 1987. 

2. Text of political resolution adopted by BjP national executive, Ah- 
medabad, October 7-9, 1988. 

3. Ibid. 

4. L.K. Advani, opening remarks to national executive, Ahmedabad, 
1988. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Report on organisational activities. Presented by Kedar Nath Sahni, 
party general secretary, to national executive. New Delhi, July 24-26, 
1987. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Resolution adopted by BJP central election committee, June 23, 1987. 

11. Ibid. 

12. Ibid. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Text of political resolution, Ahmedabad, op. cit. 

16. Two Years of Congress Misrule: A Chargesheet, BJP publication, Oc- 
tober, 1986. 

17. Ibid. 

18. Conversation with Syed Shahabuddfn, December, 1986. 

19. Presidential address, December 31, 1986. The executive was followed 
by the national council session which ended on January 4, 1987. 

20. Press statement, March, 1987. 

21. Ibid. 

22. Inderjit Bhadwar, Tania Midha, India Today, June 15, ''987. 

23. Askari H. Zaidi, Times of India, May 26, 1987. 

24. Asghar Ali Engineer, Meerut: Shame of the Nation, Ajanla Books, 1988. 

25. Ibid. 

26. Ibid. 

27. Ibid. 

28. Bhadwar and Midha, op. cit. 

29. Engineer, op. cit. 

30. Interview with Syed Abdullah Bukhari, July 1987. 

31. The signatories included P.N. Haksar, I.K. Gujral, M.K. Rasgotra, Sub- 
hadra Joshi, Badruddin Tyabji, D.R. Goyal. 

32. Interview with VHP leader Ganga Sharan Madadgar, July, 1987. 

33. One such speech was made in a Delhi locality by VHP leader B.L.Shar- 
ma 'Prem' in July, 1987. He later became a BJP MP. 

384 



34. Statement issued by Mahant Avaidyanath & Dau Dayal Khanna, )une 
1987. 

35. Lok Sabha starred question no 84, dt. 31.7.1987, by Harobha: Mehta 
and Mohd Mehfooz Ali Khan. 

36. Letter to Madhu Dandavate, P. Upendra, P. Kolandaivelu and others, 
dt October 9, 1987. 

37. Interview with Jawed Habeeb, February 1991. 

38. Letter to V.P. Singh on August 17, 1987. 

39. Ibid. 

40. Ibid. 

41. BJP national executive resolution, 'Corruption in High Places', July 
24-26, 1987, New Delhi. 

42. L.K. Advani, presidential remarks, national executive. New Delhi. July 
1987. 

43. Home Minister's Buta Singh's note to Rajiv Gandhi. 

44. Ibid. 

4.5. Ibid. 

46. Text of BMMCC resolution, January 24, 1988. Other statements in the 
same paragraph are from same source. 

47. Let'er dt January 25, 1988. 

48. Texi of VHP resolution, January 14, 1988. 

49. Statement of Ashok Singhal while releasing resolution. 

50. C. Rajeshwar Rao, Shameem Faizee, Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi 
Controversy: Dangerous Communal Situation CPI publication, April, 
1989. 

51. Indian Express, October 18, 1988. 

52. Ibid. 

5.3. Ibid. 

.54. VHP pamphlet, Our Pledge, November 1988. 

5.5. Ibid. 

56. Ibid. 

57. Union Home Mini.ster Buta bui;;^h's note. 

58. Statement of Syed Abdullah Bukh.ari, August 9, 1988. 

59. Ibid. 

60. Conversation with Abdullah Bukhari, August 11, 1988. 

61 . Union Hotne Minister Buta Singh's note, op. cit. The meeting was held 
on July 30, 1988. 

62. Convenation with Syed Shahabuddin, August 8, 1988. 

63. Buta Singh's note, op. cit. 

64. Ibic.. 

65. Ibid. 

66. Syed Shahabuddin's letter to Buta Singh, October 6, 1988. 

67. Buta Singh's note, op. cit. 

68. Conversation with Sultan'Salahuddin Owaisi, October 30, 1988. 

385 



69 . Speech of Ahmed Bukhari, November 26, 1988, New Delhi. 

70. Note to Rajiv Gandhi, January 4, 1989. 

71. Press statement of A IBM AC, January 31, 1989. 

72. Conversation with Syed Shahabuddin, Februacy 4, 1989. 

73. Rao and Faizee, op. cit. 

74. VHP pamphlet, Shila Pujan: Ram Mandir ki Oare, March 1989. 

75. Bilingual VHP newsletter, Shri Ram Shila Pocjan Samachar, September 
1989. 

76. Ibid. 

77. Ibid. 

78. Ibid. 

79. Ibid. 

80. Ibid. 

81. VHP pamphlet, Indraprastha Vishwa Hindu Parishad Dharmayatra, 
September 1989. 

82. Union government background paper prepared by Ayodhya Cell, 
PMO, September 1992. 

83. Conversation with VHP joint secretary, Surya Krishna, September, 
1989. 

84. Union government background paper, op. cit. 

85. L.K. Advani, opening remarks, BJP national executive, June 9-11, 1989, 
Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. The following quotations are from ^he 
same speech. 

86. Text of resolution on 'Ram Janmabhoomi' adopted at Palampur. 

87. BJP White Paper on Ram Janmabhoomi Temple Movement, 1993. 

88. Ibid. 

89. Ibid. 

90. Harish Khare, Times of India, December 6, 1989. 

91. N.J. Nanporia, December 1, 1989, The Independent, Bombay. 

92. Sunday Mail, Decenioer .3, 1989. 

93. Nanporia, op. cit. 

94. Ibid. 

95. M.V. Kamath, in Expanding Horizons: BJFs First Decade, BJP publi- 
cation, April, 1990. 

96. L.K. Advani's reply to N.T. Rama Rao and V.P. Singh in reply to their 
plea to secure the BJP's support. 

97. interview with Kamaljeet Rat Ian, The Economic Times, December 1992. 
Subsequent as.s.ertions of Buta Singh on the issue arc also from the 
same source. 

98. BJP White Paper, op. cit. 

99. Shri Ram Shila Poojan Geetavali, published by Ram fanmabhoomi 
Mukti Yagna Samiti, July 1989. 

100. Conversation with Bajrang Dal leader r, uiyar, November 10 
1989. 


386 



101. Press conference addressed by Ashok Stnghal, Vishnu Hari Dalmia 
and Vijaya Ra)e Scmdia. 

102. Expanding Horizon's: BjFs First Decade, op. cit 

103. Text of resotutioa November 9, 1989, Marg Darshak Mandat. 

104. Text of resolution. Ram janmabhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti, October 
19, 1989. 

105. Union government background paper, op. cit. 

106. Interview with LK. Advani in Expanding Horizons: BJP's First Decade, 
op. cit. 

107. Ibid. 

108. Press statement of Insaf Party, January 5, 1990. 

109. L.K. Advani, opening remarks to BJP national executive, April 6-8, 
1990. 

no. Ibid. 

111. Interview with LK. Advani, op. cit. 

1 12. Conversation with Congress general secretary K.N. Singh. 

1 1 3. Text of resolution, Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal. 

114. Ibid. .A total of seven resolutions were adopted at this two-day meeting. 

115. Interview with LK. Advani, op. cit. 

116. L.K. Advani opening remarks to national executive at Madras, July 
21-23, 1990. 

117. Ibid. 

118. BJP White Paper, op. cit. 

119. Conversation with J.P. Mathur, August, 1990. 

120. L.K. Adv.ani, public speech after entering Delhi during Rath Yatra, 
October 1990. 

121. Ibid. 

122. Mulayam Singh Yad^ ' later denied having made the statement, but, 
his initial silence had caused great damage. 

123. L.K. Advani in conversation with journalists, August 1990. 

124. Union government background paper, op. cit. 

12.5. BJP White Paper, op. cit. 

126. Ibid. 

127. Interview with Mulayam Singh Yadav, December 1992. 

128. Khaki Shorts, Saffron Flags, op. cit. 

129. Post card handed over to this writer by Prithipal Singh of Saharanpur 
to be posted from a 'safe' place outside Faizabad, November, 1990. 

130. Conversation with Uma Bharti, December, 1990. 

131. Conversation with K. Govindacharya, April, 1991. 

132. BJP White Paper, op. cit. 

133. Conversation with Arjun Singh, October, 1992. 

134. Union government baclcgrr.und paper, op. cit. 

135. BJP WhiiC Paper, op. cit. 

136. Ibid. 


387 



137. Union Government White Paper on Ayodhya. 

138. Gmversation with I^P leader J.P. Mathur, March, 1992. 

139. Conversation with BJP vice president K.R. Malkani, April, 1992. 

140. Union Government White Paper, op. cit. 

141. Rnd. 

142. Statement of Bal Thackeray, November, 1992. 

ANTIMKAND 

1. Cry The Beloved Country, a People's Union for Democratic Rights 
publication, Delhi, February 1993. 

2. The Pioneer, January 12, 1993. 

3. ibid. 

4. The Economic Times, May 25, 1993. 

5. Zafar Agha, India Today, December 31, 1992. 

6. H.M. Seervai, The Economic Times, April 9, 1993. 

7. Interview with VHP leader Acharya Dharmendra, April, 1993. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Report of the Inquiry Commir sion. Citizens' Tribunal on Ayodhya, 
July 1993. 

10. Seervai, op. cit. 

11. Seervcii, op. dt, further quotations in the same section are from the 
same source. 

12. Constitution of India, compiled and edited by P.M. Bakshi, 1990. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Seervai, op. cit. 

15. Report of Inquiry Commission, op. cit. 

16. Ibid. 

17. Ibid. 

18. Ibid. 

19. Ibid. 

20. This allegation has been levelled even at the higest level inside the 
Congress party. 

21. This became most transparent during the Som Yagna, a ritual or- 
ganised by Chandraswami, Rao's trouble-shooter and controversial 
godman. The ritual, held in June 1993, was supported by the govern- 
ment and religious leaders who joined the two day ritual asserted that 
the Ram temple must be built where the Babri Masjid was located. 

22. Letter to Lok Sabha Speaker from Lucknow, December 6, 1992. In the 
letter, Advani expressed deep regret at the "Happenings at Ayodhya," 
but the word "deeply" was an afterthought and inserted in the hand 
%vritten letter later. 

23. BJP leader S.S. Bhandari's cla'm on December 6, 1 992 when journalists 
sought his reaction. 


388 



24. The Statesman, December 17, 1992. 

25. The phrase was coined when attempts first started in February 1990, 
to politically isolate the BJP. 

26. BJFs White Paper on Ayodhya and The Ram Temple Movement. 

27. Ibid. 

28. Ibid. 

29. Ibid. 

30. S.S. Bhandari, press statement, December 26, 1992. 

31. Position of VHP leaders during negotiations in 1990-1991. 

32. K.R. Malkani, BJP Today, Vol 2, No 1, January 1-15, 1993. 

33. Organiser, February 7, 1993. 

34. Conversation with BJP general secretary Govindacharya, July, 1993. 

35. A report on the advice was denied by Advani, but it did not hold much 
water as the reporter maintained that his report was factually correct. 

36. Jay Dubashi, Organiser, January 24, 1993. 

37. Ibid, previous quotations from the same article. 

38. The single-point memorandum read: "We are of the firm opinion that 
on the site of the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, only the temple be 
re-constructed. A mosque can be constructed outside the Panchkosi 
Parikarama in Ayodhya". 

39. There were several people who have told the author of their arguments 
with the activists, but for their safety, the names can not be divulged. 

40. Conversation with BJP secretary J.P. Mathur, February, 1993. 

41. The Union government, especially the human resource development 
ministry reacted sharply to the move and criticised the Uttar Pradesh 
government for tampering with the education process. 

42. Conversation with K.R. .Malkani, June, 1992. 

43. Sadanand Menon, T ’e Economic Times, May 22, 1993. 

44. Ibid. 

45. Ibid. 

46. Kumkum Chadha, The Hindustan Times, May 16, 1993. 

47. Menon, op. cit. 

48. Chadha, op. cit. 

49. Swami Muktanand Saraswati, Vartaman Indian Samvidhan, 1992. 

50. Aran Sadhu, Associated News Features, January 1993. 

51. Sumir Lai, The Pioneer, May 1 5993. 

52. K.S. Sudarshan, joint general secretary, RSS, stated that "Muslims must 
merge and mingle with Motherland," The Organiser. March 21, 1993. 

53. In various statements, the leaders of the RSS clan merely condemned 
the bombings. 

54. L.K. Adv^^.li, in Warangal, July 1993. 

55. The allegations appeared to have some substance as Pramod Mahajan, 
BJP general .secretary gave details to journalists in Bangalore ctf the 

389 



jdlegation, before its was levelled. Later, the leadership stated that 
Mahajan had guessed correctly. 

56. Press statement L.K. Advani, July B, 19^. 

57. Advani's comment at the press conference, July 8, 1993. 



POSTSCRIPT 


The political scenario in India altered in December 1993, after 
the results of the elections to the Legislative Assemblies in the 
states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal 
Pradesh, Mizoram, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, 
were declared. The BJP no longer appeared to be a party whose 
march to power can not be halted, as it had seemed when the 
elections were ordered. While its defeat in Himachal Pradesh 
was greatly due to localised issues that cropped up when the 
BJP governed the state, in Uttar Pradesh, the party stumbled over 
the main deterrent to Hindu consolidation: Caste fissures in 
Hindu society. In Madhya Pradesh, the unpopular BJP govern- 
ment, and the emergence of near political bipolarity was the 
main reason behind the party's failure to recapture power, ft was 
also demonstrated that with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, 
the RSS clan lost a symbol, that it usejl, to mount the 'hate 
campaign' against Muslims. It was ironical that if the Muslims 
had lost their 'symbol of identity', the BJP and other RSb allies 
also lost a 'potent instrument' in their search for power in India. 
The setback received by the BJP is however not reason enough 
for complacency to set in among the adversaries of the RSS clan 
as it has overcome such setbacks in the past. The increase in the 
number of votes cast in favour of the BJP indicated that more 
than 40 per cent of the Hindu.s cast their lot with the BJP and 
endorsed its strident pro-Hindu, anti-Minoiities approach. The 
uneasy caste-alliance that was reached in Uttar Pradesh was a 
pointer to India continuing to remain in the state of flux, that 
began with allegations of financial irregularities being levelled 
against Rajiv Gandhi. 

With the Union government unable, and probably unwilling, 

391 



to force the pace of investigations against the leaders of the RSS 
clan, charged with conspiring and planning the den\olition, it 
was left to the Citizens' Tribunal on Ayodhya to deliver the 
first-ever 'judgement', since Independence, on the protracted 
legal imbroglio. Continuing the tradition of Bertand Russell, 
Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvior, and others — of non-of- 
ficial tribunals — the three retired judges of the Supreme and 
High Courts, found several leaders of the RSS clan guilty of 
participating in a "deep laid plan" to demolish the Babri Masjid. 
The Union government was also accused of passive participation 
in the act. The indictment was severe as it came from honoured 
judges — part of the Indian State till recently — who said that 
that their commitment was solely to the Constitution and the 
people of India. The judgement also highlighted the failure of 
the Indian judiciary to expedite the legal process: If a 'parallel' 
judicial body could deliver its judgement expeditiously without 
much infrastructure, why could not the 'official' judiciary do the 
same? Nevertheless, the judgements on all the case and refer- 
ences have to be made at some point and they would have great 
bearing on the future of Indian polit)}* 

The basic issues that surfaced in the course of the Ayodhya 
agitation are yet to be resolved. The process of political churning 
in India is poised to go on for several years. While writing this 
book, a poem written by the eminent poet, Umashankar Joshi, 
now no more, was brought to my notice. The more it was recited 
and explained — the poem is in Gujarati, a language that I do 
not understand much — the more 1 felt that though written by 
the poet in the context of superpower rivalry, it was still relevant 
in the prevailing Indian ^political reality. All rivalries involve 
needless combat and the uninvolved audience wonders if it will 
ever end. The feeling was only refurbished as events kept un- 
folding. Our search began for someone who could do an ap- 
propriate translation. We checked with Rajmohan Gandhi, 
member of Parliament, and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. He 
guided us to the doorstep of the poet's daughter, Svati Joshi. 


392 



It was a nostalgic evening for her and my wife, Harsha: While 
one had played with the toy (described in the poem), brought 
for her when young; the other had cherished the poem and 
admired the poet's works since school. The poet's daughter 
informed that Umashankar Joshi had written the poem in May 
1953, after his return from China. There is nothing more apt than 
concluding this book with the lines of Umashankar Joshi, trans- 
lated into English by his daughter. 

These Superpowers of This World 

I have brought a toy from Singapore with me. 

Two boxers I have tied up in a paper bag 
and kept under my arm. 

One has blue, the other red, shorts; 

Both are standing on wheels, sleeves rolled up; 

The key is beneath them. 

I wound the toy, let them loose, at once began jostling; 

"Here you are!" "Take it back!" — goes on. 

You laugh, bemused. 

Now the red withdraws, there the blue looks fagged out; 

Trading blows with great gusto, banging heads 
and getting up;>et. 

Moving backward, rushing forward. 

At last settling where they were. 

When the toy unwinds, in vain, they sway their arms. 

Swing where they stand. 

Will superpowers of this world never unwind? 

Or, as we wind this toy again and again. 

Will you too, God, do the same? 


393